“What are the reasons for practising handstand?” the instructor asked on Saturday from the front of the spacious conference room at the Toronto Yoga Conference. Among the many answers provided, two reasons stood out for me:
To confront our fear of being upside down.
To allow ourselves to grow by meeting and coming closer to overcoming challenges.
We were asked to choose a partner with whom we would spend the next two hours practising the techniques to would lead us closer to moving into handstand away from the wall. Throughout that time, while practising my own handstand and learning by watching the man with whom I was partnered, as well as other yogis in the room, I was reminded of several interesting points:
When I allow myself to be intimidated, or when I feel physically fatigued, my form and technique suffer. When I follow the technical points closely and take my time to stay centred and calm, I move more gracefully and am able to float into a pose with ease. The opposite is true when I rush.
Courage inspires exhilarating growth, leading us into wisdom.
Inversions are fun. That is why I enjoy playing with handstand and forearm balance. However, inversions require Presence. The constant attention is necessary to keep the balance. If, for just a split second, we allow ourselves to become distracted or allow ourselves to think of how hard we are working to stay balancing upside-down, we immediately start to wobble.
Life is a careful balance between work and play, hopefully at the same time! And that is what keeps me coming back to the mat.
I am reminded every day of why I continue to practise. The subtle lessons I learn about myself on the mat provide me with countless opportunities to see myself with honesty as I examine my approach to life. When I approach my practice from a mindset focused entirely on hard work, I end up struggling. If, however, I remain confident and move with ease, my breath and body move with the same ease and grace.
When I remind myself to move from a place of Mindfulness, to approach every event with Presence, allowing life to unfold and intuitively choosing each response, the pieces of the puzzle settle naturally into the correct places. Moving with ease and mindfulness in life does not mean that I stop working; it doesn’t mean I simply sit there and life takes care of itself. The opposite is true: I am able to get more done when I remind myself to be present. I feel more joy when I am present.
When we start to feel all the pieces of life become scattered, when we allow ourselves to feel overwhelmed, we can always remind ourselves to simply be with what is. To me, this is the equivalent of facing our fear of being turned upside down. If we don’t feel grounded through our feet, we can press more firmly through the hands that are touching the earth. In any inversion in yoga, we are reminded to press down and aim higher while staying strong through the core and the centre of gravity. We can always work with what is happening to us, provided that we remember to stay present.
By meeting these challenges head-on, we allow ourselves to grow and become stronger. Perhaps, one day, these challenges will not feel as big and scary. For a beginner yoga practitioner, to hold tree pose for 5-10 breaths might feel like an enormous challenge. Yet, after we have been practising for a while, tree pose feels easy, so we move on to more advanced poses to keep us curious.
I used to think of stress as scary. I still sometimes just want to hide away in my comfort zone to avoid doing anything unusual. Yet, the times when I allow myself to stretch out of my shell and tread into deeper waters are also the times when I open myself up to new enlightening experiences.
Growth can be scary. Even the idea of success can be scary, because we tend to resist any change, whether we perceive it as positive or negative. At the end of the day, it enriches our experience. Balance in life doesn’t mean that everything stops moving and we spend our entire days in stillness and peace. Stillness and peace come from within as we continue to learn to negotiate and adapt to fluctuations.
So, I’m inviting myself to play with balance and keep my Savasana face on at all times, even when — especially when — I start to notice the pieces of the puzzle start to come apart. I know that everything will settle into its rightful place, as long as we continue to approach life with curiosity, love, courage and grace.
How do you approach the idea of balance in your life? Feel free to leave us a comment to share your experience.
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