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Helm of the Heart

We are the ones we've been waiting for

Yo. It’s Aimee.

I’m not even a teacher, but I still feel like I totally just went on Spring Break of my own. In our time apart, a lot has happened. Most notably, my boyfriend and I got a puppy (yay!) and I did my first headstand (triple yay!). Which, I knoooow, might seem strange for someone who practices asana as regularly as I practice. (btw, “asana” is Sanskrit for “posture” and corresponds to the physical yoga poses we practice) (I’m making that distinction now to plant a seed of inquiry in your heads… “Why didn’t she just say yoga? Is she being pretentious or informative? I NEED TO KNOW OR ELSE I WON’T KNOW IF I CAN TRUST HER TEACHING!!!”) (I’ll fill in the blanks soon, I promise)  And, to be fair, it wasn’t a headstand so much as a supported headstand, but still. Big stuff.

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I realize perhaps some of you may also be thinking that Salamba Sirsasana is one of the more supported inversions, and that a lot of beginner yogis find it MORE comfortable than others to pursue on the outset of their inversion practice.  So. It would stand to reason if I can stand on my hands in a handstand or gracefully glide into a forearm stand without any trouble, why can’t I rest on the crown of my head with a wall behind me??

The answer is I dunno (full disclosure: the answer with me is often “I dunno”).  There’s a bunch of reasons why I’ve been reticent, I think. For one thing, I have a history of back problems that goes back (ZING) to an injury that happened in high school. A grave, grave circumstance which explains a lot about my confidence in my physical capabilities.

 

 

 

 

… Oh, you wanna know details? Uh… well… here’s the thing… I was totally doing something super athletic and badass, guys, I swear…

 

Well, I definitely was NOT rehearsing choreography for a community youth theater production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat… And CERTAINLY NOT attempting a CARTWHEEL into my DANCE PARTNER’s arms…

 

 

………….

 

Okay, so yeah. I royally effed up my back doing a stupid cartwheel. And I can’t even consider it a dance injury, because anyone who’s met me will agree I’m nooooo dancer. I’m not even kind of graceful… to imagine me potebure-ing my way across a room with mirrors is actually hysterical to me and my loved ones. My gawkwardness transcends art. So, all through high school and college, I was really scared to do anything that would compromise my neck or back, which was a bummer because I really am athletic at my core. I just sort of resigned myself to be that weird drama girl who sometimes couldn’t turn to the right or left without moving her ENTIRE TORSO in the desired direction. No. Big. Deal.

But guys. Yoga changed this for me. And not in the I-woke-up-one-day-and-finally-had-the-courage-to-follow-my-dreams kind of way (if that even exists). It was more of a I-finally-accepted-that-I-couldn’t-do-a-headstand-before-but-maybe-tomorrow-I-will-be-able-to-and-if-not-tomorrow-maybe-the-next-day sort of sitch. Like, I just sort of accepted that I might not be able to do something. And that was weird. Especially for a perfectionist like moi.

And you know what? The minute I took all the pressure off the pose and just accepted that it was just as possible as impossible and as impossible as possible and as GAAAAAHHHH MY BRAIN HURTS…

Sitting on my knees, I calmly interlaced my palms about 8 inches away from the wall and came into a downward facing dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana for you Sanskrit buffs). I then gently dropped my forearms shoulder-width distance apart from one another (creating a two-sided triangle of sorts with my arms).  Next, I very very veeeerrry gently set my head on my mat, cradling the back of my head in the space created by my interlaced fingers, realizing the caution I was exhibiting is not unlike the caution one might exhibit when cradling an eight week old puppy’s head in his/her palms, which made me smile as I thought of trying to flip my 8-week old puppy at home on his head… and the subsequent biting and barking I’d incur (but he’d look SO CUTE!).

And then I fucking sat there for a bit.

“Well, what the fuck now, oh brave one?” – Me, to Me. c. 2012

And then, just like it was my fucking JOB, I made that headstand my little bitch. I methodically, with purpose, bent my knees slightly, started walking my feet in toward my face, keeping my forearms firmly rooted in the mat. I stepped my feet closer and closer to my face as I inhaled and exhaled. On a very specific inhale of my choosing, I proceeded to hop my right leg up, ever-so-lightly into the air. First hop: no dice. Second hop: BOOM. The force from my right leg lifting up had enough oomph to allow my left leg to follow suit and, before I knew it, my legs were up against the wall and I was upside down as fuck.

PANIC set in as I realized I hadn’t ever gotten this far… where do I go next?? But being the good little yogi student/teacher I am, I knew the fundamentals of proper alignment for inversions are as follows:

Keep your shoulders above your wrists and elbow creases, and your hips above your shoulders. Your navel should feel like the central point through which a long line of energy travels from your ankles down to your head, thus creating a center of gravity, or a folcrum (heyyy, physics!) at your navel.

So I adjusted my weight, being very very verrrry careful not to put any unwanted pressure on my neck and spine… starting first with my forearms, making sure they were parallel with each other and directly below my shoulders. Then, feeling whether my hips were directly above my shoulders (they were!), I eventually extended my legs up long, so that my ankles were directly above my hips. I spread my collarbone wide and opened my shoulders by rolling them back and down, opening my heart space. Lastly, I pointed my toes to feel pretty and long and dancer-like (making sure to revel in it for a few breaths) (GAWKWARD). I then carefully came out of the pose setting one leg down on my mat at a time, light as a feather.

Boom. No spinal injury, no neck pain. If anything, I relieved a little pressure.

Do I suggest you do this at home? Perhaps after a couple of glasses of pinot greege while Real Housewives of Who Gives a Shit plays in the background? Absolutely not. You should try this asana in the comfort and safety of a yoga class with a licensed teacher present to guide you through it.

But I do want to encourage you to not let go of possibility. I want to encourage you to believe in possibility, especially of the non-immediate sort. It all goes back to that Faith crap I was droning on and on about it my last post… con fidence = with faith. Being okay with not getting something the first couple of times, or first couple hundred times. Having the confidence that it will happen eventually, whether “it” is a headstand or a handstand or a dream career or weight loss goal or personality alteration or emotional expression or a developed ability to turn the channel away from My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding instead of watching two full hours in a row of it. With commercials. Whatever “it” is:

“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you imagined. As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler.”  –Henry David Thoreau

Let go of attachments and explore possibility; life will become easier, I promise. That’s exactly what being upside-down is all about~ making the seemingly impossible possible. Incidentally, so is life.

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