Facing my yoga fear, one deep breath at a time

snowga

Imagine this. You’re in a studio full of yogis all lined up against a wall, practicing handstands. You carefully measure how far back on the mat your hands need to be and then you begin to kick up, one leg, then the other, to the wall. Things seem to be going well for a few seconds. And then they don’t. The wall doesn’t cave in but, rather, you cave into the wall. And then onto your head, and neck, not unlike an accordion.

And imagine that, after the stars clear, you don’t do the one thing you know you should: Try, try again. Instead, you wait the better part of a decade before you even think of putting yourself back in that position. And by that time, fear has become more deeply rooted than your tree pose.

I can do a headstand with my eyes closed (literally!). But a handstand still eludes me for the most part. I have made half-hearted attempts at the inversion over the past few years, sometimes just to appease the teacher. In every class I’d think I ought to try,  but I kept telling myself, “Next time.” Sometimes waiting is not the hardest part – it’s the uneasy way out.

Some yogis make handstands look effortless, and do them sans wall, even. (One day, perhaps, that will be me. A girl can dream.) Obviously, not everyone can be good at everything. We all have our strengths, our weaknesses, our various levels and challenges. But I don't like hearing others say they can't do something when I know they can. I also don't like feeling like a hypocrite.

It’s one thing not to have the physical ability to do a yoga pose. Some people haven’t built up the strength and flexibility that come with consistent practice, while others may have chronically tight hamstrings or pain in their wrists. In my case, the problem isn’t physical, as my teachers have assured me. It’s mental. It’s fear. Fear of doing something incorrectly. Fear of kicking up and out of my comfort zone. And fear of not being in control.

One of the most beautiful things about yoga is that it helps teach us how to let go. And then to go after what we want.

A handstand is something I very much want to do. And it’s not going to do itself. So I decided this would be the year to face my fear, head down. Now when I’m staring at the wall, I ask myself, “What’s the worst that can happen?” Yes, I could get hurt again. But I have learned ways to avoid that, including having reinforcements at the ready. I also could embarrass myself (which sometimes feels worse than getting hurt). It’s never fun to slice through silence with a crash. But really, who cares? In yoga, trying is what counts. And unless you are taking unnecessary risks or being careless, chances are good that you will walk away from any unintentional tumble.

So I fill my lungs from bottom to top with air. Hold on. And let go. I envision myself in the pose. I carefully measure how far back on the mat my hands need to be and then I begin to kick up, one leg, then the other, this time with a teacher helping to guide the way. Is the wall really there? I’m not entirely sure. But then I find it. The blood is rushing to my head. My arms are holding me up. I am remaining calm. And this time if I fall, I will get right back up again.

Carrie Camillo is an editor on the Post's national desk.

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