March 01, 2018

Bottoms Up

I am an inversion addict! I admit it. I understand and am committed to living in the awareness that yoga is more than a physical practice. For the most part, I endeavour to find balance between yang and yin in my practice and life, but some days life just happens, and I skip parts of my practice. However, it is rare for me to skip going upside down at least once during the day.

Why? What are the benefits? I could give you the generic list that can be easily found through Google. Instead, I’ll tell you my inversion journey and story. So, . . . . . here it is!

It was many years after I started yoga that I began to play with “advanced” inversions. This was mainly due to circumstance as when I started in 2004, yoga was not a major thing here. There may have only been one studio in town (that I didn’t know about), I was practicing in a class at a gym where we didn’t do too many inversions and Facebook and Instagram weren’t going full force shoulding me into poses that could have either been inspiring, intimidating or downright dangerous based on my skill level at that particular point in time. I am immensely grateful that I had this time to build my foundation and develop the sense of how to really listen to my body and its limits. I didn’t attempt a headstand until 2009, felt a major accomplishment when I did it away from the wall at my first teacher training in 2010 but never felt completely comfortable and confident in it until 2013 when my teacher and classmates helped me refine it at my second training. From there I merely dabbled in inversions and arm balances mainly in classes when teachers would introduce them and have us experiment.

On Jan 15, 2016 I was convinced (roped into?) doing a 100X100 challenge. Three of us committed to doing 100 handstands for 100 days. Crazy? YES! Difficult? YES!!! Worth it? DEFINITELY!!!! In the beginning I couldn’t imagine finishing the challenge, but now almost two years after it ended, there are very few days that I don’t do a handstand and incorporate that work into my personal practice.

Yoga has taught me many things about myself and life, and my handstand practice highlighted these lessons even more. There are many benefits to including inversions consistently in an asana practice, but I’ll merely share a few that have benefitted me specifically:
  • Make mistakes and fall down (you will even if you don’t want to!) Growing up I was taught (mostly unconsciously) that mistakes meant failure. My practice taught me that in order to get up and successfully hold an inversion, sometimes I had to experience the “wrong way” first. Every fall made me experiment with something different to feel my way into what worked best for me. Learning to fall SAFELY was probably the biggest lesson and a-ha moment I had in my 100x100 challenge.
  • Consistency is key. Especially in the beginning, for every 50-95 times I fell down, there were a only a handful of times I managed to stay up! There were days when I really, really, really didn’t want to do them. It wasn’t until the challenge ended, and I took a bit of a break did I realize how much more difficult it is to improve when you’ve lost the momentum of consistency. Sometimes just forcing myself to do inversions is part of the work even if I don’t feel like I had any progress that day.
  • There are cycles in everything. There are days I’ll “nail” handstands, days I can barely get up, days I feel I’ve moved backwards, and days I don’t think I’ll ever improve and move forward. That’s life! I’m slowly getting better even if it isn’t always the linear quick improvement I had hoped for!
  • The high of an accomplishment is worth it. Even if the accomplishment is as silly as holding a handstand for a few seconds and even if no one else knows (or cares) about the accomplishment, it’s that high that keeps me going. There is power in internal motivation and power in supporting and cheering for yourself. After one of the first consistent holds I had in the challenge, I gave myself a self high-five to celebrate. It became a bit of a joke, but then I started to do it with every little thing in life that I felt I had done well. I realized that for a long time I had been waiting for someone to come along to support and cheer on my successes no matter how small. I discovered that the best person for that job turned out to be me!
  • Inversions are fun. Going upside down is how I play as an “adult” and helps me shatter the myth of being too old. I didn’t even start attempting handstands until I was 42! Up until I actually turned 40, I believed that 40 was old, my options would begin to dwindle, and it would be pretty much downhill from there. How wrong I was! Because I was getting stronger and developing more control and facing fears, I began to do things in my practice that I had previously labelled as “maybe in my next lifetime.” There are still things that surprise me in my practice and things that I didn’t think would ever be possible. How fun is that?!
Inversions are an amazing part of a yoga practice, but are only a part of a whole system. Without the breath, being present, mindfulness, self-awareness, etc. inversions are simply gymnastics. Gymnastics is a wonderful sport, but if your intention is to practice yoga remember to connect to and honour all of the parts!

Interested in bringing inversions into your current practice? If you are unsure of how to get started, how to build a foundation or you just want some tips and pointers, join Salli and I for our upcoming inversion workshop this Saturday. Feel free to contact either of us for more information or details.

Happy inverting!  

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