Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Turning the world upside down

There are many ways in which your world can turn upside down. Most are unplanned, unforeseeable, and unlucky occurrences. But not all.

In yoga class, it's intentional, starting with your physical practice. Any inversion changes your perspective about what's up and what's down: handstands, headstands, arm balancing poses. Even the basic downward-facing dog pose makes the floor your visual ceiling.

This changed perspective used to seem like an optical illusion. My brain would puzzle over point of view and horizon lines. Then I gave up analyzing and accepted what my eyes spied. This made inversions a little less scary, if not always doable.

The hardest part of doing an inversion is everything but the actual pose. It's the fear of falling, the worry in wobbling. It's the anticipation and counting how long it's been since last attempting to defy gravity in such an obvious way.

A few years ago, while walking on the beach, I saw two young girls practicing handstands. They made it look effortless -- and like a lot of fun. Basically, they were just playing around and laughing at their inverted world. Yes, they fell, but the soft sand provided a well-padded landing.

My first adult handstand was on a much harder surface, but in the supportive environment of my yoga class. Many pairs of hands helped me to reach and hold my balance. Then I was the one laughing, with the surprise of standing on my hands.

This isn't a feat I can reproduce at will, as the fear of falling is ever present. And I need the support of a wall or willing spotters.

Still, on the rare occasions when the stars align and I'm feeling brave, holding an inversion -- even attempting one -- turns my world upside down. Literally, and for a long time after.

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