Tonight, I practiced jumping into handstand. Kicking up is one thing (and that’s not even the way you’re to approach the posture, known in Sanskrit as Adho Mukha Vrksasana – Downward Facing Tree Pose – thank you very much! – but I think I’m still a few moons from lifting into it – the subtle layering of the mula and uddiyana bandhas required for ‘floating’ are definitely a work in progress). It’s not easy work: you must place your hands and build a strong foundation in your shoulder girdle, over which you spring the hips with just enough momentum that you catch your balance, but not too much or you topple over, you have to not be afraid TO topple over – you have to find BALANCE, and you have to be OK with FALLING…these are truths, you want balance? Learn to fall, and learn to like it 😉
But the larger lesson here isn’t the mechanics of approaching Handstand (or any other inversion, for that matter)….it is what the asana represents, it is a powerful metaphor for change, or at least looking at things from a different angle. Let’s look at it, shall we?
As I learned in my Asana Technique and Anatomy class, the body consists of three sections that we manipulate to understand balance. It’s gonna get a little insect-science-geeky, but hear me out:
- We have a head, the storage space for the brain, the origins of the spinal cord and most of our sense organs (save the integumentary system a.k.a. the skin) – believe it or not, this is the smallest of the three sections (though ALL of us know people that make us wonder…)
- The ribcage (or “thorax” for the entomologically-minded) – an armor of bone that surrounds and protects the heart, lungs and the beginning of the gastro-intestinal tract – bigger than the head, and;
- the pelvis (or “abdomen”, if you’re still with me on the insect trip) which contains more critical organs that I can even remember (the liver, kidneys, pancreas, gall bladder, reproductive organs – not to mention 8 metres of gut).
Of those 3, the pelvis is the key, “where you send the pelvis, the rest of the body follows” – and it’s true. Normal human posture plants the head, as the lightest, over the ribcage, next lightest, on top of the heaviest, the pelvis. This creates the most stable structure, narrow over wide, light over heavy (think of the Great Pyramid, the tallest structures on the planet til the Eiffel Tower, and even THAT has the same basic plan), the body’s nerves, blood vessels, muscles and their attachments all support this arrangement, hardwired into your DNA.
Now, here’s the fun part…
Inversions ask that we reverse this finely-honed-over-millennia-of evolution configuration, and flip ourselves literally upside down. Truly, it is a scary prospect, wide-over-narrow, heavy-stacked-on-light, but it is possible, though not easy; to achieve this, we must have a sense of alignment and balance and an understand of the control of the energy flowing through our bodies. Yes, bandhas again (i need to devote several posts to this soon, i promise!)…but here’s the cool metaphor-y part that you can grasp without even leaving the most comfortable spot in your bed, inversions ask you to change your perspective…isn’t it simple? obvious much? But it’s true, and deceptively profound in its simplicity, sometimes when you approach a situation in life, the straight-on, most familiar way may not always be the best one for you…just like you have to re-configure your body to achieve these challenging asanas, often you have to re-configure your mind also to find resolution and success when faced with less-than-ideal circumstances. It takes courage, discipline and determination and these are not easy things, but they are worthwhile.
Sometimes, when you just change the WAY you look at a thing, the thing itself changes. So…go ahead, change your attitude, or latitude, the way you approach an asana, a life-altering event, or something as quotidian or mundane as the route you drive to get to work in the mornings…I promise you, it WILL feel different and maybe the straight-on way is the way that works best for YOU…but at least you’ll KNOW. 😉
long post (I was inspired tonight)