Standing on your hands in class does not make you a better yogi; instead, standing on your feet in the chaos of the street is what makes you better.
These were the words of the New York City yoga instructor one summer morning when my daughter finally, triumphantly, nailed a Handstand.
Surroundings can impact us. Many emergency rooms are painted in greens and blues, colors that studies have shown to induce calm. Some restaurants have patterned floors to make diners eat quickly so the tables turn over faster. People display in their homes what makes them feel good: Pictures, books, memorabilia. Once, a decorator told my mother that the colors in the home should match what looks good on the owner – so the owner feels at home!
The walls of the yoga studio where I practice are painted in beautiful shades of blue and accented with murals of a giant Buddha, an oversized Ohm, several bamboo shoots and butterflies. It is calming. From my mat, the poses provide various vantage points, and I have memorized the murals and could probably have drawn them in my sleep. Most days, when I move my mat to the wall for inversions, I find myself in front of the bamboo. The brown shoots stand tall and straight, divided into segments and stacked one atop another. I visualize the bamboo as go up into Handstand, stacking each part of my body, one atop another.
To teach Handstand, our instructor often refers to Tadasana, or Mountain Pose. In Tadasana, the feet are together, big toes touching. The body stands tall, the neck is long, the shoulders are down and the arms are by the sides with hands splayed out, palms forward. All points on the body are stacked, one atop another like the bamboo in the mural. Feet and legs are lined up directly under the hips; torso and shoulders are lined up directly above.
My daughter had been working on her Handstand. A dedicated yogi, she practices several days a week and joins me for class on visits home as she did this past summer. She had spent months conquering her fear of inversions and, having tackled Headstand, was now working on Handstand. The challenge was twofold: Overcoming the fear of inverting and landing the balance in the pose itself.
During the inversion segment of class, the instructor came over to assist, demonstrating a step which would allow her to linger upside down and feel it for a moment. Alongside my daughter, he placed his hands on the mat, lifted one leg to the ceiling and tucked the other one in, bent at the knee. He lingered there; hip points and shoulders stacked, all but one knee in line with the rest of his body, upside down.
Just practice like that, he said, encouraging her not to complete the Handstand and to instead leave one leg bent. This step would invert her without the fear of going overboard while also letting her stack the rest of her body in order to linger upside down. After several attempts, my daughter felt the linger, telling me afterwards that doing so made it worth waking up for that morning's class.
By summer’s end, on her triumphant day, my daughter called while running hectic errands through the jewelry district in Manhattan. Amid the sirens and chaos of the city, she sounded happy, calm and collected as she proudly described her Handstand triumph.
Amazing! You stood on your hands! You are getting better and better! I exclaimed.
Mom, she said proudly, I am a better yogi for finding my way on my feet today, not for standing on my hands!
A collection of Anne's posts can be found at http://YogaSpeak.blogspot.com