A couple days ago, I recieved a letter from a reader requesting some yoga advice about a subject that I think is really relevant. So, with said reader's permission, I am going to reprint some of my response here, in the hopes that it might be helpful to anyone else out there who may be suffering from...(drum-roll please)...
(Otherwise known as good old fashioned fear of going upside-down.)
The reader in question had a very real and serious concern, as she had an experience where she was dropped (by a teacher no less, argh!) when attempting one of her first handstands, and it really left a mark (emotionally). I don't know if any of you have ever been dropped by anyone in a yoga class, but it is a truly upsetting (not to mention dangerous and painful) experience. Also, the teacher/culprit of this dropping didn't do or say much to remedy the situation (she was probably freaked out about having dropped a student, but still!) and the impact on my dear reader was so profound that she stopped going to classes and relegated her yoga practice from that moment on to DVDs in her living room at home.
In the studio where I'm practicing currently the teachers are super serious about spotting in inversions--they tell students to opt out of spotting if they don't feel 100% comfortable and they really get on people if they aren't being attentive. The spotter, in those few minutes when a pose is being partnered, becomes an extension of the body of the person they are spotting--they should be breathing with you, anticipating where you are and what you need and being so, so sensitive to your comfort level, especially in inversions. If that's not happening, it can just be bad news for all involved.
Happily, however, the aforementioned reader has recently been bitten by the "I want to go back to class" bug--hence the re-appearance of her inversion fear--hence her letter to me. Which, in a nutshell asked--how do you handle fear of inversions, and what can I do in class so that I don't feel pressured or freaked out when it comes time for headstand or handstand?
She is not alone in this question, I am CERTAIN. So, in the hopes that it might also be helpful to someone else with a similar bug-a-boo, here follows my tips on how to deal with fear and the upside-down world
1. You. Have. To. Keep. Breathing.
That's it. When you are ready to start to go upside-down again, do not leave your breathe, not even if your life depended on it...which it's going to feel like it does. Stay with your breath. Breath can overpower fear, it really can...or at least it can drown out the voice that's saying, no, you can't do this.
2. Tell the teacher that you're scared. Tell her (or him) that you were dropped before and that you are frightened. Tell her (or him) to reassure you that they are there, and to keep their hands on you at all times when you're going upside-down. This is no joke. Even if you're embarrassed...do this. It will help you immensely.
3. Be a spotter for someone else. And vow to be the very best spotter you could possibly be. Pay minute deliberate attention to their body, communicate with them, keep them safe, take care of them like they were you. This will help you feel a part of the process of inversions, and it will help you to learn what you need from a spotter when you're going up.
4. (this is an esoteric one, but what the hell)...Let the symbolism of the pose touch you. Ask yourself (your big self) what is in this pose for you, why it is so hot, what does it mean to turn your world upside-down, and let the poetry of that, the metaphor of that, keep you interested...let it be a balm for your fear.
5. Even if you never ever go upside-down again, your practice can be as full and as miraculous as ever. As long as you are present and breathing and bringing all of your beautiful self to the mat, it doesn't matter if you spend the entire first class in childs pose. And anyone who gives you any guff about what poses you are or are not doing...well, they have their own shit to work out.
I would love to hear from anyone and everyone about their inversion experiences...good and bad. Have you ever been dropped? Have you ever dropped someone? Do you invert? Or do you just happen to run off to the bathroom when it comes time to get all legs-in-the-air-y? Tell me your tales of the upside-down world!