For the last year and a half, my yoga practice has been almost exclusively Ashtanga. Some days it's feels amazing and other days it's a hot mess! Lately, I have been working into deeper backbends, including dropping back from standing into urdhva dhanurasana (wheel pose) and standing back up.
Although I'm not quite there independently, I am very comfortable doing this with the assistance of my teacher, Caroline. For whatever reason, there is a lot of fear in this movement for me, so it was a pretty big deal when I dropped back to floor all by myself last week! The first time was witnessed by my teacher (yay!) and the second time was during my home practice.
On Monday I showed up to practice with my teacher, and while I was getting ready to start my backbends, I gave her a look that suggested that I needed help. She didn't approach me. Instead she stood back and said that when her kids were young and first went to school, their teacher gave all of the parents advice. The teacher said, "whenever you see your child do something by themselves, it means that they are capable of doing it independently, and you should no longer help them with that task."
I looked at her and probably rolled my eyes because I knew what she was saying. No more help with drop backs!
I stood at the top of my mat and felt nothing but fear. With fear comes the feeling of wanting to throw up. And wanting to throw up makes me want to cry a little. It's difficult to describe if you have never experienced deep back bends.
After several attempts of dropping back, but not actually dropping back, I stood still giving myself a mental pep talk. I was very aware of the lesson my teacher was teaching me. I had to learn to do this on my own.
Finally, I did it! I dropped back! Except this time, my arms gave out and I landed on top of my head. Ouch!
I looked up at my teacher from the floor and we both laughed. I wasn't injured. It was hilarious! Fear is a funny thing. Why did I stop using my arms?
After this incident, she assisted me twice with my drop backs, and then I sat down and called it a day.
During my home practice on Tuesday and my studio practice on Wednesday, I wasn't able to drop back. I tried several times, but the fear was too much. I was actually afraid of falling because I now knew what it was like to fall.
As a joke, and to vent my frustration about overcoming my fear, I posted this on Facebook the other day.
How to practice drop backs in six easy steps:
Fast forward to my practice this morning, Thursday. I got on my mat around 8:30am and really, really did not want to practice. I felt tired and unmotivated. I convinced myself to do all ten sun salutations, then continued to convince myself to move on through my practice pose by pose until I finally felt totally alive right before I was about to begin back bends.
"Ah, back bends. Here you are again." I thought to myself.
I was feeling slightly afraid and slightly discouraged, but I decided to give it a try anyway. I stood at the top of my mat and prepared myself. A mental pep talk combined with deep breathing led me to feeling intensely focused on the task at hand.
I started my back bends the way I usually do, searching for the floor with my eyes. Caroline says that if you can see the floor, you just have to go for it!
I kept seeing the floor, but I just couldn't convince myself to bring my hands over my head to touch my mat.
Fear, fear, fear!
Finally, I went for it! My hands hit the floor and I found the pose -- and I didn't land on my head! Unassisted and relatively unafraid.
Fear is funny. Sometimes we don't know where it comes from or why it exists at all. We can't always figure out why fear shows us it's face when we are doing something that doesn't seem all that scary. But yet, fear exists. It holds us back. Sometime it holds us back from "silly" things. Sometimes it holds us back from making major progress with not-so-silly things.
My teacher always says that our yoga practice brings up lots of "stuff". Physical stuff sure, but a lot of times it's emotional or even spiritual. And of course, a lot of times it's fear.
I made great progress in my practice today, but I can't say that I won't continue to be afraid. I can't say that I won't land on my head again. But I will still get back on my mat tomorrow and try anyway. I won't let fear hold me back.
Keep practicing. And, wait for it! What happens next could be something unexpected and truly wonderful.
Stay fearless, my friends.
P.S. I captured my experience today in a video. My smile at the end...hopefully that says it all! :)