This last weekend I taught a workshop on the arm balance postures, Crow/Crane (Kakasana/Bakasana) and Side Crow (Parsva Bakasana). For those who aren’t sure what these are, picture getting into a really small ball, perhaps twisting around to one side, and then placing that body shape onto your arms, lifting your feet into the air, and supporting your entire weight on your two hands. Say what?! Let’s talk for a moment about this craziness.
Rewind a few steps. The true practice of yoga is so much more than physical exercise. It is so much more than the sometimes crazy shapes that we call “asanas.” Those pictures you see on Instagram – yes, they’re beautiful, and postures like Crow are fun and empowering to master. But in reality, simply balancing on your hands is SO FAR from what yoga is really about. In fact, going back to its roots, to the first texts on yoga, very little mention is even made of the poses at all. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, which is akin to The Bible for us yogis, is a collection of (just under) 200 separate principles, or steps – a sort of “user guide” to the path of yoga. Out of these 200 steps, only three even mention the poses. Three!
The majority of the book addresses how we see the world, and how we can clear our perception and begin to see it more clearly; ethical guidelines to living; how to begin to calm the mind and direct the thoughts; and the ultimate goal, Samadhi – pure bliss, transcendence of our physical and mental selves, becoming part of the greater whole. A return to the infinite, to complete Oneness with all that is. But this is for another day. Weren’t we just talking about Crow pose?
During this two-hour workshop, we warmed up the body for the postures, flowing and stretching appropriately to open the proper muscles and learn some of the key actions needed to enter them. We tried out some different variations, used props and the wall and even the windowsill, and then of course we tried out the final poses. Some had never attempted the posture before. Some had dabbled with the shape, but never actually lifted off the ground. Some went right on up and flew, and worked on refining the posture even more. I was SO proud of every single person in that room, because they showed up, and challenged themselves in a new way. All the poses were beautiful, everyone lifted their feet off the ground, and call us crazy, but we all supported our bodies with our own two hands.
But, more importantly, we all did something a lot bigger than just an arm balance pose. We did something a lot more “yogic.” Something to make Patanjali proud. We got out of our heads. We pushed past some mental blocks. We moved past FEAR.
That powerful, sometimes crippling force that can stop you in your tracks and prevent you from doing something you want to do or trying something you want to try. Perhaps it stops you from meeting someone new who could be a great friend. Or keeps you in the job you hate, because it is comfortable and you’re not sure what else you’d do. Or keeps you in the toxic relationship, because it’s scary to imagine life without that person. Or stops you from signing up for a training, or getting on stage at the open mic and playing the new song you wrote.
We all know about this. THE FEAR OF FALLING ON YOUR FACE. Of embarrassing yourself. Of getting hurt. Of failing.
Guess what? Almost everyone in the workshop that day, did exactly that. Fell. Flat. On their face, their shoulder, their hip. Luckily, we were only a few inches off the ground, so physically, no one was injured. We also had the support of blankets and pillows and blocks to break our falls. And guess what else? Everyone got right back up and tried again, and again, and again. And it was on the second, fifth, tenth try, that they flew. They picked their feet up off the mat and trusted their arms enough to take flight. Even for just a second – they flew.
Like any good yoga teacher, I must now help you see that this has a much greater meaning, an application to our lives off the mat. When you think about trying something new, it’s scary. How do we go about doing it?
Step one is to break it down into its necessary parts and pieces, so it feels a little less overwhelming.
Step two is to prepare, as thoroughly as possible – this will help you feel just a little more confident.
Step three is to gather the necessary supports around you, backup plans and parachutes in case of emergency.
Step four – the most crucial, and definitely the most difficult one – is to tell that little voice in the back of your mind saying “YOU CAN’T,” to shut up. THIS ONE CAN TAKE A HELLA LONG TIME TO GET PAST. But you CAN. And if you want to, you WILL. Remember – you prepared your emergency parachutes (or in our case, emergency pillows).
And also remember – you are not going where no one has been before. Anything worth doing does not come easy. No one has achieved anything great without being in the exact same position you’re in now. Whether it is all the people in the past who have learned Crow pose, or all the people in the past who have followed their deepest dreams, YOU ARE NOT ALONE. But be kind with yourself if this step takes a long time. Fear is normal. Fear does in fact have a role in the road trip of our life, but our goal is to relinquish it to the backseat of the car. Don’t give it a map, don’t let it be a backseat driver, don’t let it pick the music or even hold the snacks. It’s only purpose is to keep motivating you to move forward.
Once you can progress beyond this step, (and again, be soft with yourself – this step is hard) you’re there. You’re in the driver’s seat. You’ve moved past fear, no one can stop you. Perhaps, just maybe, you fly.
And if you fall? Or fail? You might. In fact, it’s likely. Maybe it’s not like yoga class where we have a room full of blankets to pad your landing, but I guarantee you do have supports: your family, your friends, your teachers and mentors, probably even some less well-known admirers who have watched your journey unfold and have been silently in awe of your bravery. And like I said before, you’re not the first person to fall. Or fail. So what do you do then? Get back up, and try again.
There is beauty in falling, and in failing. The only step that follows, is to get back up. That’s how we learn, get stronger, and know how to move forward, with greater knowledge, and greater confidence. With less fear.
And I speak about fear, and about this workshop specifically, because I just went through this experience. This was my first ever yoga workshop. And guess what? I WAS SCARED OUT OF MY MIND. Like all normal humans, I thought about it for months, but procrastinated the shit out of preparing for it, so by the time I even got to step one of that above-mentioned transformation plan, the pressure was really on. Self-doubt and anxiety crept in, thoughts like “you don’t know enough about yoga to do this,” or “they’re all going to hate this workshop.” I thought about cancelling, secretly hoped my kid would be sick so I didn’t have to go (hey, just being honest). I didn’t sleep well the night before because that damn passenger, fear, kept trying to talk to me from the backseat. But, like every day, the morning came, the 10:00 hour rolled by, and the damn thing happened. And you know what? It was FUN. I opened up class discussing fear, and how we were going to move past it. WE. ALL OF US. TOGETHER. As in, me too. I was going to move past fear, just as much as my students were.
While the blankets and pillows supported them, who supported me?
Their enthusiasm and excitement was contagious. Their willingness to learn kept me going. Their bravery and strength was inspiring. We laughed, we fell, and together we moved past fear. Were there things I would have done differently? Probably. Were there things I forgot to include? Yes. So maybe I fell a little bit too. But the support I had, in the form of the humans around me, kept me moving forward. We all left transformed – stronger, more knowledgeable, and better prepared for the next opportunity to fall.
To the students who showed up to my very first workshop – thank you. Your presence meant more than you will ever know. Your confidence in me as a teacher is humbling. Your dedication to your practice, and to supporting each other, inspires me, and brings out my very deepest convictions about the beauty of the human experience. Your willingness to get back up, again, and again, and again – that helped ME to fly.
To you, I bow. Namaste.