For years, my scariest yoga pose was handstand. You’d think that a yoga pose wouldn’t be as scary as meeting up with a goblin or ghost, but many yogis would rather confront a gremlin than go upside down.
My friend Maria finds headstand to be the scariest pose. “It's the combination of dizziness and not having my legs to stand on that does it; that and a basic fear of falling and getting hurt,” she says. For my friend Darla, it’s Half Moon (Ardha Chandrasana). Others freak out over Crane, Side Crow, or Scorpion. Seems like everyone has at least one pose that is really scary
In honor of Halloween, I asked some awesome/brave yoga teachers the best way to conquer fear of a particular pose. Here is what they said:
Rebecca Bergstrom of Yogadesha (http://www.yogadesha.com): “Take your time and create space in the back body. Like cat--or scary Halloween cat--the back has to be really full. Becoming more spacious in the back will in turn create more abdominal support. It's the core abdominal support that will make these scary poses available. Also, keep your feet on the ground when working toward the pose. The feet coming off of the ground is something that happens when you’re ready to go there. Or just fling your self up against the wall (handstand or other inversions) and see what it is like to be upside down--for this technique it helps to have a good assist from an experienced teacher.”
Debby Kaminsky, who is teaching a “Monster Class” of “scareasanas” at Bhakti Barn in Millburn this coming Saturday (http://www.bhaktibarn.com): “Many of the scary poses are ‘scary’ because of one's headset of thinking it is hard, I can't do it, I'm scared, not strong enough, etc. If we shift our headset, we remove the so-called obstacles. I always teach my students to give the scary poses your best shot and hence surprise one’s self in moving a bit from unknown to the known. With handstand, I like to have people lift one leg from their down dog and then when focusing on their breath, bend the leg on the ground and with the breath, let it lift off the ground, hence catching some air. By doing this several times on each leg, the "so called scardy cat" gains confidence, lifts a bit higher and is moving towards full handstand. Also, with handstand, I like to have students go into an L shape at the wall so hands are shoulder distance apart and legs are on the wall with one's body in an L. With breath, the student can play with lifting one leg at a time.
There are other stages I work with as well in the class with handstand so that one gets more into their own prana/energy rather than the act of propelling leg up into the air through momentum. Handstands involve the core and control so it doesn't ever matter to me to be in the full pose. What goes on along the way to the full pose is exciting. Crow or shall I say ‘scare-crow’ is another one. A great way to approach it is from a squat with legs wide. I like to play with hands on the earth/ground and feeling connection with legs and then inhaling, rocking heart forward a bit while lifting one leg off ground. Exhale back. Other side, several times. Then with an inhale, bringing heart forward lift both legs up (even if just for a bit) to feel the sensation.”
Heidi Camuti, yoga teacher: “Handstand is scary for some, but approach it as letting the spirit fly and connecting with the freedom of children on Halloween; warm up by doing floaty kick-up, clicking the ankles and then finding your stability like in a crazy fun house where the floors are moving but somehow you get through. Crow is another challenging pose but if you think of yourself perched up high on a branch as you lift the pelvic floor and apply uddiyana bandha (flying muscles) connect with the soaring energy of a crow, heart lifted, eyes gaze ahead. Finally, savasana aka final resting pose/ corpse pose. It can be a challenge to be in perfect stillness, unengaged in the activities of the mind, allowing your body to feel empty of bones, blood, organs, eyes sinking into skull, jaw relaxed, nervous system quiet...why? Because it resembles death…letting go of name, form, residence etc... total surrender. Basically using visual or experiential references help with those scary moments in class when the teacher asks us to do a pose we hate.”
Agnes Tengerdy (Bir Akal Kaur) of Ignite Yoga in Livingston (http://www.igniteyoganj.com): “I always say: Ask yourself what is the worst thing that can happen to you? The student usually comes to pain and breaking something and not succeeding but at the end the worst for most is to die. And then I just offer them the quote: ‘When I died as a mineral I came back as a plant. When I died as a plant I came back as an animal. When I died as an animal I came back as a human. Is there anything bad about this? I am not afraid anymore...’ Also, for me fear means living in your head. We’ve got to live out of our heart instead; then there is no fear.”
Dee Andalkar, yoga teacher: I think the problem with challenging poses is we over-think until we create so much fear that we start to have visions of what might happen. You have to work through your fear, push your edges, and let go of what might happen, or else everything in life becomes Scary! Lead with heart not your head, set yourself up properly, and when you kick the leg up to the wall think of fun not fall. I've actually pictured gymnasts and said if they can do it so can I. If other people can do it so can I. Obviously, the fear of falling can be overwhelming. But you have to work through it. Fear stifles your true potential, fear limits your existence. It’s a slow process, practice each day trying to get the legs to the wall. Use your breath and body and let the pose come with compassion and acceptance. I learned on a carpet with my yoga mat so if I fell it may be less painful. Our bodies and mind are incredibly strong not to let us fall. Sometimes falling is not so bad; it teaches us how to fall and pick ourselves back up and try again. Just like life sometimes we need to fall/fail to move out of fears.
Liz Aitken, formerly of NJ, now teaching in Colorado: “A little fear is good, but [approach through] breath and awareness of alignment!”
Omni Kitts-Ferrera of Yoga Montclair (http://www.yogamontclair.com): “Anything that is fearful is also valuable. You can hit a wall of fear in any yoga pose; arm balances and inversions just up the ante. When we can release into the trust of something greater, we can move through our fear courageously. The victory in these poses is seeing the inherent power and ferocity of your heart. It shakes us, so that we shake back. We break down our ‘I can't’ and replace it with ‘I CAN.’”
Sage advice from great yoga teachers…now, back to your mats; those challenging poses aren’t so scary after all! Happy Halloween!