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As a young girl, I discovered yoga — it came with a huge warning about the dangerous sirsasana or headstand. My mom’s favorite line was “The day, one’s blood pressure is even elevated, the nerves of the head can burst.”
Soon after, my own creative refuge saying became “oh, my neck will crick if I do this”. Scores of people did it all over the world, but comfortable in my cocoon, I never even aspired to even try to do it.
On and off, over the years I flirted with yoga until one day, a teacher at my local gym made sirsasana look like a walk in the park. He encouraged an unwilling class to try and most didn’t make an attempt. In fact, most of the class expressed it was arduous. By popular mandate and guidance from the management, he stopped teaching it in class. Nonetheless, this teacher seemed almost on a mission to make us master sirsasana, so he taught it after class. For many days I observed and assessed him: "was he showing off?" Or, could I trust him to to teach me this? I’ll admit, he inspired confidence, but I wasn’t prepared to let go — that easy.
A month later, I stayed back after class and he baby sat me through the seven steps of sirsasana, but my fear wouldn’t let me go beyond the third. My palms would get so sweaty from nervousness, I heard my own heart violently pounding and I was too self conscious— being out of shape and this upside down business was super embarrassing. I managed a few times to get it right. Yet, the lack of control and the all-over-ness of the body was so overwhelming, that I fell down with a loud thud.
Once, I heard someone giggle behind me and buried my face in my yoga mat. There was no yogic calmness about this. It was embarrassing, plain scary and the story repeated, everyday. And, my inability to do it despite repeated instructions, made me feel even worse than Pavlov’s dog. Anyway, I continued for the sake of my “battered ego”.
Most asanas are therapeutic, and it wasn’t a coincidence that sirsasana’s meant to: overcome fears. Most of us, conditioned by our abilities, weave our world around what we know and not what more is out there. As the World evolves we have become more fearful than ever in history. We fear failure. We fear insecurities of passing youth. We fear criticism. We fear disappointments. We fear falling in love, falling out of it, infidelity…and the list goes on. Advancement that should liberate us, has left us more terrified.
Anyway, getting back to sirasana, I tried not to make wise cracks about it, or laugh at it. If the teacher got frustrated with my late pace, he never showed it. If other students laughed at me, I tuned them out. I also kept in mind a significant quote from yoga guru, BKS Iyengar:
“The best way to overcome fear is to face with equanimity the situation of which one is afraid.”
When I started to believe, focus on my breath, I inched forward, inverted — it became more of a mind game, than a posture. This time, when my world went upside down, I didn’t close my eyes to it. There was some method to this madness. One day, I stayed there for 30 seconds. With little support, I remembered every bandha and engagement. The feeling was exhilarating.
As I shifted into child’s pose, streams of sweat along with tears rolled down my hot, flushed face. Thank god no one saw my tears, else my strong girl image would have been destroyed. The feeling was so tremendous that I have ran across the hall and hugged the teacher. There is something so sacred about vulnerabilities as well, they keep one rooted. Practicing yoga makes one so vulnerable and such a warrior, all at the same time.
That day, I drove back home with a beaming smile, and grinned through my sleep, as well. It was the turning point of my practice and I realized that I had to take it up to the next level. It also dawned on me that yoga is more than anatomy and poses. It’s energy invested in a degree, where the subject is life and the fine art of self realization.
Overtime, I have learnt to breathe. No, actually learned to exhale, and picked up some equanimity in the bargain. I was always a yoga lover, trying to learn sirsasana which transitioned me into a yoga freak, and now I am a fanatic. Hats off to the yogis for developing this art. Thanks Mom for making the intros. And, kudos to the superb headstand teacher at the gym for being so patient with such a “difficult case”.
Most important, a “shashtang pranam” to all the fantastic yoga gurus.