Upside Down Right Side Up

The secret to perfecting the headstand is, unexpectedly, to fall.

by Andrea Marcum

Misjudging a headstand and crashing to the floor is about as much fun as getting unexpectedly fired from your job or having your heart broken. I believe, though, that falling out of a headstand can lead us to the pot of gold.

Headstands are fantastic, living laboratories. In them, suddenly upside down needs to become right side up, and we have to muster the courage to embrace the process of adjusting to a new perspective no matter how messy it gets. Similarly, our lives can feel messy, miscalculated and out of control when it comes to managing our schedule, dealing with deadlines, handling responsibilities or trying not to consume the entire box of dark chocolate covered almonds in one sitting. Whether we’re attempting to balance our cravings, calendars, cheque books or on the top of our heads topsy-turvy, these struggles are an integral step towards top of our game.

If we litter our inversions or our lives with impossible expectations we pin ourselves beneath frustration and impatience, which, in turn, erode the bravery and humility it takes to try again. We have to be willing to both fall down and get back up. Personally, I’ve tumbled many times — certainly out of my headstand — into a new headspace. When we get our hands dirty and really dig in the soil, sometimes we discover that when we think we’ve been buried we’ve actually been planted. Stumbles are an inevitable aspect of learning. It’s what we make of these wobbles that allow our seeds to bloom. To quote Buddhist monk and author Thich Nhat Hahn, “No mud no lotus.”

Much to my surprise, while I was leading a retreat in Mexico my husband, Dom (not exactly known for his interest in the metaphysical or “spiritual”), made us an appointment with Roxanna, the intuitive/psychic who my group had been raving about.

She had us rub a bouquet of aromatherapy oils into the palms of our hands and smell them with our eyes closed for a few minutes, and then… “You get frustrated,” she told Dom “and you bring it to the relationship. And Andrea tries to fix it. That is really frustrating, isn’t it?”

He agreed (a bit too enthusiastically).

“You need to leave him to his frustrations,” she told me. “They are positive, even though they don’t seem like it at the time. They’re what he needs in order to move to something better.”

Roxanna’s advice rings true for us all. We have to be allowed our seeming setbacks so that we can move through them, learn from them, and ultimately move on. To rush or to avoid this progression would be to cheat ourselves out of the gold that’s being mined and then, worst of all, we’d have to repeat the lesson.

Out of turbulence and hardship comes a little shining piece to the puzzle of why. A better understanding of what we’re capable of, and what we’re doing here. It is our way towards meaning. Sometimes we need to get a bit lost in order to find our self.

Our yoga poses affirm that change and improvement are going to be a bit scrappy. The trials of getting into a headstand reveal that often things are not going to go as we’d planned, but they just might turn out even better that way. In the yogic texts, pradikpaksha bvhavanan asks us to contemplate and take another view; to reframe our negative perceptions and see them as opportunities; to shift from buried to planted.

It’s more rewarding to do the work than it is to avoid it. We need to see balance and progress not as a single headstand, but as a part of a larger personal pilgrimage (sadhana). When we look at things through a wider lens, we can see every fumble, challenge and fall as an opportunity to grow. Each time we glean a little bit more wisdom to bring to our next inversion or adventure.

Incidentally, we’re all digging in the dirt together. So as we do, let’s encourage each other to see upside down as an enriching and critical part of being right side up.

Our mats are maps to hidden treasure. #MoveYourMat = shift your life.

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Andrea Marcum is a globe-hopping ambassador based in LA, but you can practice with her from anywhere with her yoga how-to videos. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.

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