How I Finally Turned My World Upside Down

By , SparkPeople Blogger
I'm studying to be a yoga teacher. On Day One of training, my palms were sweating, my heart was racing and my mind was running. I would soon have to face my biggest fear in yoga: Inversions.

I had spent the past two years avoiding headstands, arm balances and handstands. "Iím not strong enough," I told myself at first. Soon the strength was there, but the fear remained. In headstand, my hands wrapped around my head and my elbows tucked in, I felt claustrophobic. Add a teacher who just wanted to help me, and I felt even more cramped down there.

I once accidentally kicked a teacher who tried to help me get into headstand. I wasn't ready, and I told her that, but she wanted to help. I felt surrounded by limbs, the room was closing in, and I wanted down. I didn't try again for over a year--at teacher training.

I have some control issues. I like life to happen on my terms. While that doesn't always work, with inversions, it did.

On that first night in teacher training, I watched women kick up for the very first time. Some of these students were brand-new to yoga, and they didn't have that fear. No one had ever told them they couldn't do yoga, that they couldn't do a headstand, so they never took it to heart. I told myself I couldn't, so I didn't.

That night, I set a schedule. I would master headstand (against the wall at first) by the end of training.

I practiced in class that night, and the next two days. I felt frustrated, but I kept with it. The fear was slowly subsiding.

A week later, I visited my mom. Her floors are carpeted--much safer than my apartment, with its circa 1860s hardwood floors and exposed brick walls. I rolled out my mat and started kicking up. I flailed a few times and kicked up. Immediately, I came down.

I was shocked but determined. A few more tries and I was able to stay up for five breaths!

I returned to teacher training the next weekend and didn't share my secret. When it came time for headstand, I moved my mat to the wall, took a deep breath and went for it. I did a headstand. As I rested in child's pose immediately after, I couldn't help but grin from ear to ear.

Fueled by my success with headstand, I decided to set goals for the other inversions and arm balances we frequently do in class: forearm balance, handstand, crane pose and tripod headstand.

I gave myself two weeks to learn forearm stand and a month for handstand and crane pose. Forearm stand came easily enough, and now I'm working on doing it--and headstand--away from the wall.

Handstand continued to elude me. I'm tall, I'm bottom heavy, I don't have enough momentum. The excuses flowed like rain each time we headed to the wall for handstands.

One night, I felt so frustrated, I actually started crying slightly. Why was this so difficult for me?

I squeezed my eyes shut and stayed in child's pose as I tried to fight the vitriol spewing from my mind. "Everyone else can do this. You're the only one. The only one. It's not that hard. What's WRONG with you?"

I was done for the night, but I kept trying. Slowly but surely I was getting there, but I never got more than one leg up against the wall at a time.

It was May 1, and I had not achieved handstand. I was about to give up.

Tired, having spent a restless night and a day eating poorly and feeling worse, I wanted to skip my workout. Just one inversion, I said. It would only take five minutes and would give me some much needed energy.
With mere hours before my deadline would pass, I headed to the mats here in the office. I kicked up a few times. On my third try, I made contact with the wall--with both feet. And I stayed there for five breaths. I felt great!

This time as rested in child's pose, a smile overcame my face.

What changed? I started from standing, I spread my hands wider, and I used more momentum. But most importantly, I stopped beating myself up.

Whether your goal is to do a handstand, run a mile or lose 10 pounds, you have to honor and respect yourself. Beating yourself up and losing faith in your abilities is not ever going to yield results.

My new goals: Headstands away from the wall, tripod headstand (June 1) and peacock pose (July 1).

I love the feeling of being upside down. When I've had a rough day or need an energy boost, a quick headstand--or handstand--is just what I crave. When life feels like it's moving too fast and I need to feel centered, turning the world on its head makes all seem right and clear.

Looking back, I'm glad that I had to learn inversions slowly. Each one revealed itself to me as a gift, and I was able to bask in the bliss of achievement. If that fear hadn't been present, I never would have appreciated the skill, beauty and strength of each pose.

Is there a goal that you've had trouble reaching? Do you beat yourself up? How do you fight your inner critic? For fellow yogis, which pose is/was the hardest for you?

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Thank you for sharing your story. Perfect timing. I've been away from Yoga for quite awhile. Think it's time to work it back into my schedule.
Loved this! Thanks for sharing the struggle of "getting there." As a "beginner" of 2.5 years of yoga, I still cannot get my foot all the way forward when going from lunge to down dog, and I had found only one teacher that gave me hope I could one day do an inversion, but then she left. But I keep plugging away, and the foot is getting closer, and I have a new teacher who is taking us into "handstand prep" through different poses that give us the feeling of being inverted. I believe it's gonna happen for me someday (both the foot and the inversion). Report
great motivational article. Yeh for you!! Report
same here i am also very afraid of doing inverted poses as i feel really giddy while trying to get into pose..


Sonea Mudgal Report
wonderful article Report
I have been practicing yoga for years and started out really mild. If I were to tell anybody about difficult poses in yoga, it would not be about my "accomplishments" in yoga, for the cosmic applause one could receive, frankly, is approximately the sound of one hand clapping ... Nobody is going to be teaching me the full expression of pincha or of adho mukha vrksasana for a long, long time if ever, which is not to say I have not catalogued (privately) my "milestones" in more advanced poses. I am 55 years old, and should be more attracted to a highly spiritual but more sedate style, but my time crunch led me to a small and very loose knit community of dedicated vinyasa practitioners ... the chapter is never closed on this book ... Report
I too love yoga. I think your post could be applied to any area in our lives. Somethings just don't come easy and we have to work at them. The inversions are definately difficult for me. I use DVDs and vary them up and record Namaste yoga for my morning practice. Power Yoga by Rodney Yea is my newest prize. It is quite challenging to keep up with his pace.
Namaste! Report
Great blog. I too enjoy yoga. The hardest pose foe me is tree. Pretty simple eh. If I can get my head out of the way, and try not facing other people, I can do it, not for long, not prettily, but I can do it. I am working on increasing my time in the pose, then I will work at getting it "pretty". Report
Congratulations! The "Power of Try" in action. Overcoming fears is very difficult and your story is inspirational. Report
Although I am hyper flexible b/c of my arthritis, my fat has gotten in the way of yoga practice and I just tell myself it's boring. Maybe I have to be more introspective and find a yoga therapist who can help me get past that and develop. Report
Your story is inspiring to this yoga student who is afraid of many balance postures. Thank you. Report
Taking up a yoga practice just about 2 years ago was life changing for me! There is PLENTY that I cannot do... yet! One of the greatest lessons from my practice is learning greater appreciation for exactly where I am at this very moment. I still get frustrated, but am learning to be more forgiving of myself and grateful for what I am able to do do (especially things I couldn't do 2 weeks/months/years ago. This lesson is beginning to cross over into my healthy living practice too, and this time, I feel as though I really can succeed!

Thank you for sharing your inspiring story! It certainly gave me a lift today! Report
My nemisis was the skipping rope. I simply could not do it without wrapping it around my neck, legs or any available limb!! To add insult to injury, in the biggest loser contest, we all had to do an endurance test at the start which included skipping a rope 10 times. Well, lets put it this way, without the rope, I would have had a decent time, but with it ended up one of the slowest. We did it again for the end of the contest, and I managed it a bit better, but still with trouble, so once again was one of the slower times :((( How can you teach coordination where there is none?? Report
There are definitely times when I have beated myself up for eating past my calorie intake or failing to get my exercise done for the day. This article was truly an inspiration! Report
Way to go!! I've never done yoga or even attempted a headstand... but you make me want to go out and try it. Thanks for sharing this! Report
Way to go on never losing sight of what you wanted to create. I hope you succeed with your other goals as well. Report
I don't practice yoga but I appreciate your nicely writtren article. It encourages me to forge ahead and make progress. Well done, Stephanie!!! Report
I feel your frustrations, I have been stuck with doing a handstand with the help of a wall for two years now. And being an ex-cheerleader makes me feel very frustrated because there are other static poses that I want to learn especially now with my new passion capoeira which requires some of the fancy stuff too. I have not been consistent with trying to achieve this goal, thanks for giving me the push to try to finally achieve this goal. I'll practice as if I'm studying for a finals exam! Report
Congratz Steph! I'm very impressed! I've never done headstands of any kind. When I was doing yoga regularly, at first the inversions against the wall made me feel green & pukey. After a while I didn't feel nauseous every time. Report
I checked out the peacock pose ... wow! Good luck! I'm just beginning with yoga and can't even imagine doing the peacock pose, but who knows what time and practice will bring. Report
This blog post came into my life at EXACTLY the right moment. I had been real active about seven years ago. I had my Yoga Deck, my mat, and was in a groove for a while. Then someone stole my Yoga cards. I talked about it with a friend this week, and she suggested buying new cards so I could have the tools that have worked for me in the past. Wow, what a relief it was--and I bought used. I, too, want to be a Yoga Teacher. One day, I will be. Report
I was always so afraid of failing that I never wanted to try anything new. Then I joined a marathon training group and little by little I gained confidence. I have now completed 13 half-marathons and am training for my first full marathon. That isn't to say I am over the fear of new things. I still have to push through that. Report
What wonderful inspiration to read on my way to yoga this morning! I am still trying to break through the fear of propelling myself upside down into a handstand (sure my arms will collapse under me). Guess it's just that fear itself I have to deal with and not the pose itself. Thanks for sharing....... Report
"The only thing we have to fear.... is fear itself"

This is what I tell myself every time I go snowboarding instead of, 'WHY can't you do this?! There are kids less than HALF my age shredding powder like it's their job & you can't even get down a slope on your toe edge?! How stupid can you be?!' it's not at all encouraging. Mahalo for the reminder that while we may be our own worst critic, we also have to be our biggest cheerleader Report
How wonderful!!! Overcoming an obstacle and doing a difficult pose. Now, how can anyone manage to do the peacock? I am comforable with the basic kid stuff in your book LOL A truly important thing you said is "Whether your goal is to do a handstand, run a mile or lose 10 pounds, you have to honor and respect yourself. Beating yourself up and losing faith in your abilities is not ever going to yield results." I find that very motivating, just what I need! You keep up the good work! Report
That's a great accomplishment! Congrats Stephanie!
I have never done yoga before, and I might never try unless the women's fitness group at my church does it when we start our fitness groups on Saturdays later this month. I didn't know much about it until several months ago when my local paper did a wellness story on a yoga class. The reporter did a news story as well as a reaction story on her participation in the class. That's where I first heard the terms "cow face pose" and "crane pose." She, apparently not coming from a yoga background, was confident in trying those poses, but struggled some herself. After I read that article, I was like, I don't know if I will ever try it.
I have, however, tried and done piliates before, which I have enjoyed. I first tried it in April 2008, and had to stop after a few weeks b/c of life circumstances. Since then, it's been and on and off thing, but other than me not pushing myself enough to go the gym on that day, I can't really explain why it's been an on and off thing.
I picked some techniques pretty quick, but at times I felt a little intimidated b/c I can't do the moves as easily as the other classmates (though understanding they have probably been doing piliates for some years). Like the move when you have to circle each of your legs, I have to do them in small circles b/c I can't keep my hips still when I do the full motion.
Really, I been my worst critic even it comes to this whole weight loss journey. The exercising I have conquered a lot. I tried out a lot of the aerobic classes this year, the ones that use to intimidate me, and have learned how to keep up with the pace and pattern. But I wasn't losing weight (not even that many inches) at all and I didn't figure out why until yesterday. I am not eating enough food, and I would skip eating lunch or dinner b/c I would most times not bring food to work. (Long story.) Up until that day, I was beating myself up b/c I wanted to lose a lot of weight between Jan and next week when I go home. I feel like I should have known, but I just learned yesterday that skipping meals will keep your weight the same. (I just knew about the tendency to overeat, which I would avoid doing that sometimes.) So, the reality is that I have some knowledge but still a newbie to weight loss, having not loss any weight yet. But I am learning that I have to develop a plan and work it, not just see what happens at some point.
MEMEJ4: Airplane pose is tougher than it looks. It's all about core strength and engaging your belly lock (uddiyana bandha). Spread your toes wide for a firm base, fix your gaze past your nose in front of you, and slowly lift your arms and leg. I like to try squeezing my arms toward each other to engage and offering a small bend of my standing leg for added strength. Try flexing your lifted foot, too. (That's probably TMI, but I LOVE helping people troubleshoot poses.)

SHARON_AHAUS: You're NEVER too old to start yoga. Yoga isn't just about handstands and crazy twisted poses. You can choose poses to help alleviate pain and stiffness as a start. Report
I just started taking yoga seriously this week. I get frustrated when I canít do the poses but it is funny when I fall over. I canít even do an airplane pose without wobbling.
Handstands Yay for you
Yoga is never my thing. But congratulations on your success! Report
Good for you. I wouldn't even want to try this one. I feel that I'm too old for doing anything like this, now. My Mom used to tell me that I shouldn't turn upside down, that all my blood would run to my head. lol Report
I couldn't do a handstand if my life depended on it! As Gallagher the comedian once said, "when you get to be this age you should never put your butt over your head!" Report
I did headstands starting in my late twenties. However, a few years back I developed a weak disc in my neck, so now I no longer attempt them. The thought of becoming paralyzed is too scary. Report
Congratulations on your accomplishment! Very inspiring blog -- now I've added yoga inversions to my fitness goals list (along with 100 pushups, 20 pullups, 20 chin-ups, 200 squats, and 200 sit-ups). Report
Congratulations on your accomplishments. I am not confident that I could learn these poses at the moment, but one day, I may add them to my list. At the moment, I am focusing on running. I started out just walking about a year ago, and I have walked many miles. I did not think I could run anymore because of damage to my sacroiliac and pelvic ligaments when I had my two kids. (My youngest is 12 now.) It has been treated many times over the years, and each time it has improved, but I have still had to be very careful about what I do, what shoes I wear, and how long I have had them. A couple of months ago, with a lot of encouragement from SP_Nancy, I started running. I started out REALLY slowly, and nothing hurt. So I kept working on it. I signed up with my local Road Runners Club, and started their beginning women's training program. Yesterday I ran over two miles for the first time (still slow!), and nothing hurts. I may have finally reached the point of making my ligaments a non-issue. June 21 I am going to run my first 5K with my class. After that, I will probably move up to the 8K program. Wait and see!
Thank you for sharing your inspirational story. Report
The first time I made it by myself into handstand I had practiced for3 months almost daily. I was so excited and for a while I could almost consistently do it, then I got a shoulder injury and It's been 6 months or so since then. I'm back working on being content with what I can do and building the strength in my shoulder back up. I'll get back there some day and this time with a bit more humbleness and thankfulness in the pose. Report
Thank you for this blog! Timely and compassionate. Again, thanks for a nice reminder of everything in its own time. Report
wow thanks for this. I am always my worst enemy. If I am more confident I achieve more. Thanks again. Report
Boy, that sounds familiar. Thanks for the brave share! Mine used to be cow face pose (gomukhasana) with a bum shoulder. I look at everybody easily locking their hands behind their backs and here I am with my rope again. I know it's not a competition ... but hard to accept the imperfections nonetheless. Yep, that's what it's all about!!
You are such a motivator! Congratulations on your success! I also was touched by your comment "you have to honor and respect yourself" I beat myself up frequenly and wonder why I can't honor and respect myself by taking care of my body. Thanks for your quote, I will add it to my motivation slogans. Report
The timing of your post is incredible. I used to do handstands a lot when I was a teen and lately I've been thinking I would try it again, as I have been doing a lot of strength training over the past year and somehow kept thinking about trying it again. It has been awhile and I'm not young, so I know it won't be as simple as it was then. Your post has inspired me to try and reminded me of the importance of being patient with myself. Thank you, Stephanie. Report
Great Job Stephanie!!! It feels so good when I push through the fear of doing something I really want to do. Like right now, I'm in training for a marathon, FOR THE FIRST TIME IN MY LIFE!!! I've had hip problems and recently had them replaced. So, I never thought I could do any running until I found out about Aquajogging. I'm so excited to be able to train for the June 5th 5K run!

Is there a goal that you've had trouble reaching? Yes, getting back on stage and completing the run of the show.

Do you beat yourself up? Yes, and then I would comfort myself with food.

How do you fight your inner critic? These past few weeks since being a Sparkie, I've been putting on some music and dancing :-)

For fellow yogis, which pose is/was the hardest for you? Yoga is another something that I would like to do. I recently heard of "Kundachi" which is a form of Taichi and Yoga. My senior center offers Taichi and the instructor is considering Kundachi. Report
I've always wanted to do handstands and cartwheels, but I'm terrified of falling, so everytime I go to start the motion my legs and arms just get weak and shaky. Report
Awesome job. thanks for sharing!
On the other hand/head...I'm having ear problems, and find that turning upside down makes me slightly sick- I used to do head stands, hand stands & back flips off the diving board and in the pool, but doing that now- just doesn't work. I'm not going to be working on this one for a long time! My ear problems are arthritis related, so I don't expect them to go away.
Sometimes... sometimes, the body seems to say 'no'. I listen. Report
I've been practicing yoga for two years and I'm still trying to do a handstand ! I've been told I have the shoulder strength to do it. but every time I start the pose, I just don't feel stable. However, I'm working on it. Little by little with practice, I am getting closer. I can do some modified versions of the pose, but not the full pose. not yet.

one day. one day. Report
I've just started yoga and have had a hard time mastering any kind of inversion. I feel super confident in most other poses, but inversions just kill me. I'm glad to hear that there are others out there. Thanks for the story. Report
DOWN2SEXY: You're absolutely right--yoga is a path, not a destination! It's hard to keep reminding ourselves of that. Report
Inversions are my greatest barrier, too. I am a ruptured brain aneurysm survivor and that experience left me with balance issues, so even the upright balance poses are a huge challenge. Somehow, trying to balance inverted seems out of my reach.

However, now that I've read your blog, I feel inspired to set some goals for myself and work toward them. Yoga is a path, not a destination. I need to keep reminding myself that you can't move along the path if you don't take the baby steps. Report
I have found in learning martial arts that the thing I hate to do the most becomes my favorite once I master it. Good Job! Report
I am truly impressed. I had a similar experience with Tae Kwon Do. People like you are an inspiration...aka "Yes We Can". Report
Great Job! Report
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