Headstands are a big deal for me. Even before I started practicing yoga I didn’t like being on my head. As a child I rigorously avoided summersaults, cartwheels, rolling down hills and any games where I might end up on my head. So contemplating an actual headstand was scary for me. It was something I never thought I’d be able to do.
For five months now, I have been working on my headstand, and for most of that time it didn’t look like much. It took me a solid three months to move from downward dog with my head on my mat and my arms quivering with effort, to actually being able to pick one foot up off the floor. Finally, in September I got to the point where I could lift both feet off the floor and curl up in a little ball. Another step forward came two weeks ago when I gained the strength to raise both legs together halfway into a full headstand. Today, I worked with my teacher, Nikki, to raise my legs all the way up into a headstand while she stood behind me to steady my legs if I needed her. (I did!)
As always with yoga, the mental component is often more challenging than the physical. While the blood rushes into my head and my shoulders and arms shake, I think of how weak my neck actually is and what a fragile body part I’m attempting to balance on. Even though headstands are really more of arm-stands, as the weight is mostly in your arms and shoulders, there is still some weight on your head and I always imagine the thousand different ways I could fall over and hurt my neck. Quieting those fears while balancing in my headstand has been half the battle.
Fear of hurting my neck is one of the biggest hurdles for me right now. Gaining general strength and flexibility has come along at a satisfying pace, but fear has been tough to move past in poses that take me out of my comfort zone. I am most comfortable in upright positions and seated positions, but as we all know, yoga is not all about what’s easy and comfortable for us! In Urdhva Padmasana and Pindasana, I prevent myself from progressing because I am afraid of rolling backward over my neck and head. It’s a strange fear because I’ve never had a bad fall or injury to provoke hesitation. In reality if I roll backwards over my head I do not hurt myself at all, but fear, of course, is a slippery emotion and hard to conquer.
In headstands, I’ve found that trying to focus solely on counting my breaths, and counting them as loudly as I can inside my head, helps drown out the fear of falling. Also, focusing on a speck on my yoga mat or on the wainscoting behind me and really studying that one little speck can take my mind away from thoughts of what might happen to my neck if I fell. I have practiced rolling out of headstands and have found that it’s nothing to be afraid of and I’ve fallen out of headstands by accident and found that it’s not that bad either, so I just have to keep counting my breaths and push on! As I gain strength what seemed impossible in June is slowly becoming a reality.