Written By Koren Barwis
Growing up, I wasn’t one of those girls who was always doing cartwheels and somersaults. Back handsprings were the demise of my high school cheerleading career. Having my feet over my head made me feel out of control, like I could fall and kill myself at any moment.
As I became a yoga regular, my fear of being upside down didn’t abate; it actually got worse. When instructors would mention inversions, I’d sweat and watch in awe as experienced yogis would pop up into headstand in the middle of the room. Eventually, I learned how to do a headstand near the wall, but relied on the wall for perceived safety.
With the support of the wonderful Marcia from Flow, I finally got the courage to do what I called an “egg stand” in the middle of the room. This is essentially the fetal position upside down, without extending my legs. But I wasn’t satisfied — I wanted a real headstand away from the wall.
So in January, I decided that at 41 years old I would not let my fear of being upside down rule me. I put together my 2015 vision board, complete with images and goals. To do a headstand away from the wall and to get into handstand were right near the top.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said “once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen” and that was certainly true for me. I posted a photo of my vision board on Facebook, mostly for accountability, and immediately an opportunity to face my fear was put in my lap. A yoga teacher friend told me about a workshop she was doing on handstands. I signed up immediately, before I chickened out.
The workshop was great and taught me the fundamentals. We partnered up and helped each other do handstands against the wall. I left feeling amazing, satisfied with using the wall for my handstand for now.
Not long after, there was a headstand workshop, which I also signed up for. Again, I learned the fundamentals, like how to setup my arms properly to support my weight. The teacher also debunked my belief that my hamstrings were just too tight to get up smoothly. Hearing her belief in me made me confident that I could do it, and I did.
Since then, I practice my headstand and handstand almost every morning. I also try to do them in different places since doing them in the comfort of home is much easier than doing them outside of home (don’t ask me why). I’ve practiced in my hotel room in Puerto Rico and on my recent trip to Africa. Talk about pushing my comfort zone — inverting on my deck overlooking a sprawling vista of the Zambezi River and Zambian mountains!
Through all this, I’ve learned a few things about fear and inversions…
- Just do it —when it comes to fear, just muster up your mental strength and push past it.
- There is basic strength required to invert, mostly in the core and shoulders. Most likely the reason I couldn’t do a lot of tumbling as a kid was because I was relatively weak, especially in contrast to my size (I was 5’-7” by 12).
- Proper alignment and setup is crucial, allowing for proper weight distribution. When you do an inversion correctly and hit the critical balance point, it should feel relatively effortless.
- Your anatomy matters – arm length, neck length, hamstring tightness all factor in. Work with a yoga instructor who can check out your form and help determine if you need props.
- Believe you can do it.
And lastly, you may never love inverting – I still don’t. I rarely feel completely safe and solid, particularly in headstand, but that is part of the thrill. I’ll keep practicing and facing the fear. Next up for 2016, headstand from a wide-legged straddle and handstand away from the wall.