While this post does have the ballet tie-in, somewhat, it is pretty tangential…
In the last couple of weeks of my beginner yoga course – which is now over as well as my summer ballet session – we started focusing more on inversions, which as it sounds, involved inverting the body. Which means the equally fascinating and terrifying concept of being upside down (as well as any time the heart is located above the head, according to Yoga Teacher). But it’s the truly upside down – like vertically – stuff that I’m mostly referring to.
In order to prepare for a headstand, Y Teacher had us practice interlocking our hands, placing our elbows the correct distance apart, and then lifting our hips up while pulling up with our backs and shoulders, feet still on the ground. So far so good. She has us practice the next step – do the above while facing away from a wall that is leg distance away, and then walk your feet up the wall. Still so far so good, and quite fun in that head-rush-y kind of way.
Then came the next step – do it facing the wall and basically end up in a headstand with your feet resting on the wall. :0 What?! There’s no in-between baby step…? She did say that none of us were required to try, and you could sit out, or do downward dog, or practice the previous step. Which I kind of wanted to do… but I had told myself that if this class provided the opportunity for me to learn once and for all the technique to being Upside Down, I was going to take it! Besides, pretty much everyone else in the class was going to try it, so I didn’t want to miss out. Y Teacher told us we could try getting up ourselves, or we could wait for her to come around and assist us.
I took the second option, and when she came around she said something like “this should be easy for you, you’re very strong”. I agreed (that sounds awkward, but I wasn’t going to say ‘no, I’m weak’…) and told her it was a fear issue. She had me get into the practice position, lift up one of my legs as high as it could go, and sort of held it there as she guided my second leg up. And I was upside down – really upside down, not like any half way point, or just my head below the heart – and honestly it was so cool that as soon as i came back down I immediately couldn’t wait to do it again. Which Y Teacher cautioned against, something about doing a headstand repeatedly in one session dehydrating the body…and my upper back and triceps were pretty much done anyway. So the next day…
We did handstands instead. The extra length of the forearm makes it seem as though the floor is so far away and it was so scary. I wanted to get up into the pose, once again same reasons as before, but once I got up it was too much. I’m a little disappointed that I didn’t find it as awesome as the headstand, but I’m willing to give it time, especially when I think of how slow my ballet progress was.
We did headstands another day, and still I couldn’t get up without Y Teacher’s help. I did attempt it though, except I was too scared to kick up into it, so I put one of my legs up and then tried to hop with my other leg. I don’t know how I though that was going to work, looking back, but at the time I guess I thought by getting one leg on the wall the next would follow. Except I would have had to kick my legs up harder, which I’m scared of doing.
I asked Y Teacher if there’s anything I can do since I can’t get up by myself. She said something like “you can’t, or you won’t?” and again mentioned that it’s not a strength issue. I again said, “but I’m scared…” and she mentioned some of the other poses I’ve been able to do which are hypothetically as scary and can lead to falling on ones face (she specifically mentioned this side plank pose in which you grab on to your top leg’s foot with your top hand and balance). I don’t remember what I said, other than I’m scared to kick up my legs and fall sideways, but she did show me this way to get up that involves a doorway and walking your feet up. I felt… empowered – while I’d loved getting into the headstand in class, I’d felt a little sad that I couldn’t get into the pose without assistance.
So of course I want to try at it home the next day. I found this nice wide doorway and set up to do it and… it’s still terrifying. I got up to the point where both my feet are high up, one on the opposite doorway, one high above me in the air, and I’m technically upside down, but not completely vertical, at a slant something like a seventy-five degree or so angle I’d say. And I start feeling a little panicky, because I have no idea what to do next. Boyfriend was nearby, and asked me “do you want me to help?”. I said yes, and he guided my feet, first the top one that had been so close and then the second one. I was happy to be upside down (at home!), but disappointed that I still couldn’t do it by myself…
I was determined to do it myself (with the doorway) in class the next time, under Y Teacher’s supervision. This time, I was able to identify when the problem began: when my first foot left contact with a surface, my second leg was afraid to follow unless the first foot found a foothold (which definitely made me think of ballet, as I’ll explain later). I made myself stay calm as I sought out the wall in front of me with the top foot. Once I found it, I lifted my second leg off the wall behind, and I almost felt like a snap together as my second leg joined the first. Things were well, until it came time consider getting down. In all the excitement I hadn’t even considered that part. Luckily, it wasn’t as bad as I had feared (I have a history of being more afraid to get down or on the downhill part than climbing up or the uphill, for reason which I don’t know or understand yet).
For now I’m still getting up into a headstand by using a doorway. I figure I’ll look at it as how in ballet we depend on the barre when we’re beginners, and then once we’re stronger and more confident we don’t use the barre as much. Once I’m super confident with the walking up the doorway method I’ll try to kick up into the wall or use my core strength to bring up my legs, and then eventually work up to doing it wall-less. Once I’m more comfortable with the upside down part I’ll see about moving on to the handstand (and then other cool things that are not yoga but involve being upside down, like walking on my hands or a walkover (which also involves being able to sustain the bridge pose and push up out of it). Yes, I have not yet given up on my inner 8-year-old’s dream of doing a walkover. Perhaps I’ll never get there, but I have set a goal.)
As for the part where I was reminded of ballet, I think the fear of letting go of the floor I’m having here is related to my difficulties with cabrioles (and by extension, all beated jumps except for royalles). That feeling of one foot already being off the ground or unsupported, and then bringing up a second foot to meet it, it scares me. I mean, I can bring my legs together off the ground if the objective is to come down altogether, like in assembles, but for whatever reason it’s different here. My teacher’s expect me to try the cabrioles, even if not high off the ground (which makes it even more scary because now I feel like I’m more likely to land wrong), so that means they do consider me strong enough to do it. I wonder if they also feel that it’s not that I can’t, it’s that I don’t want to…?
(Which is a tough way of putting it, but in a way Y Teacher had a point? I mean, there wasn’t a physical reason why not, so I can see why someone would say ‘you don’t want to’, but at the same time, when you’re the person it’s happening to, and it sure feels like you can’t, it can be really hard to hear that the only thing getting in the way of you is You.)
Well, for now I’m going to continue working on conquering the fear of headstands, and hopefully that will lead to me feeling braver overall.
PS. I will probably write another yoga post about my experiences in the course in general at some point soon, as well as a summary of my summer ballet session