Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Prepare to Waver

Several times I've started to write about the George Zimmerman case, but I realized I had nothing to add to the conversation, except to say that I do not think justice was served. A 17-year-old boy lies dead, and he is not only accused of using concrete pavement as a weapon, of being a pothead, but of causing his own death. If only he hadn't tried to defend himself against a guy who was following him because he was stranger and he was black. I'll leave it to essayists who have more considered opinions, like Ta-Nehisi Coates and Jelani Cobb.

An excellent demonstration of Salamba Sirsasana, Headstand

Every writing teacher I've ever had has advised me to stick to writing about what I know. Who'd a thunk I'd  ever be more qualified to talk about standing on my head than about criminal justice? For years I've been tentative about headstand, known as the king of the yoga postures. Headstand has wonderful benefits: clearing and calming the mind and strengthening the arms, shoulders, neck, spine and abdominals. In yoga we balance on our feet, sometimes on only one, on our sitting bones, our hands and knees, our forearms, and the backs of our shoulders. All of these seem very doable. I might not be great in arm balances, but I knew if I got stronger through my arms and abs I'd be able to do them.

But balancing on my head? I had the idea that only people who had attained some kind of physical empowerment could do it. My teacher Shar Lee teaches headstand between two chairs. Below is a very good demo of the technique, similar to Shar's.

I've done it this way many times because it puts no strain on the neck and head. But then another teacher pointed out you don't get the crown chakra stimulation that only Headstand and Rabbit provide. Sirsasana was one of the poses I learned in teacher training. There I learned it without props. To my amazement I was able to get into the posture, under my teacher's careful direction and observation. She correctly pointed out that success in Headstand is predicated on pressing the forearms into the floor so that the crown of the head is only very lightly touching. Stabilizing the shoulders and engaging the abdominals is also part of the formula. Put them all together, and you have lift-off.

I haven't felt comfortable doing it in my practice until recently. It kept calling to me. Primarily I've had to work on overcoming my fear. I was afraid of falling and breaking my neck. That is a legitimate, material fear. My underlying fear was more subtle. I discovered I just can't stand instability, and headstand is all about finding equilibrium within instability.

I don't know anyone who loves instability. I'm not alone in wanting to know where my next meal is coming from, where my next kiss is coming from. I like knowing where I stand with the people I care for most. I like knowing that the Earth is spinning on its axis, and the earth is solid beneath my feet.

What I'm discovering in my current explorations of headstand is that stability is at best a wavering presence. Stability can't last, though it is a field we can play in.When I'm in Sirsasana, it's a constant interplay between swaying and stabilizing. Just as your mind never completely stills in meditation or at any other time, your body never stops moving. In the posture, I'm continually reminding myself to press my foreams more firmly into the floor. As soon as I do that, the structure stabilizes. But then I have a slight form break somewhere else, either in my side waists or in my shoulder blades. Then it's back to lengthening through my sides, and sending my shoulder blades toward my sacrum. Some days I can't stabilize at all.

Achieving stability, in Sirsasana or in life, is not a market to corner or a deal to nail down. It's very much about practicing skills and making adjustments that support your being, whether you're upside down and balancing on your head, or right side up and giving your children their independence.