Are Yoga Poses Difficult Or Is It All In Your Mind?

Yoga And The Handstand

As a yoga instructor, I know that yoga is not about getting somewhere or something; it's not about stacking up or comparing yourself to others. It's more about making space with whatever is and sitting with whatever is, about releasing, emptying and understanding.

Still, I could not help but to be frustrated with myself that after years of practice, I could not get up into the pose of handstand. For me, handstand was always one of those poses - you know the kind, the kind you maybe make a half hearted effort to get into and then basically just watch as others gracefully launch up into it and hold it with what seems like ease; the kind that some form of fear holds you back from doing, not necessarily a physical limitation.

I had been in the pose with the help of various different instructors, holding me up and allowing me to have the experience. In those situations I always give such effort, such strain, even with the assistance, just to stay there. This did little to inspire my confidence. Working on the pose from all angles, did not seem to help either and basically my handstand was going nowhere fast.

Long story short, I gave it up. I decided that my shoulder problems and injuries were the reason I couldn't get into the pose and left it at that. I never taught the pose to my students (as I couldn't demonstrate or even discuss it adequately) and I gave up trying in my own personal practice.

This weekend something changed. I went to the yoga journal conference is Estes Park Colorado - an incredible experience, 3 days of nonstop yoga, many amazing instructors from all around the country all set high in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. I took quite a few different classes and learned an incredible amount. I was inspired by people in their 50's and 60's moving with grace into headstand, difficult arm balances, the splits and you guessed it, handstand. Still, doing handstand was the furthest thing from my mind.

Then I took a back bending class which involved trying scorpion pose (one of the most challenging) and it is accessed through handstand. I thought about going to the center of the room to do an alternative pose but decided I might as well try, what harm could come of it right?

So I called the instructor over right away and he helped me get into the pose. Strangely I felt no strain and at ease; quite a different experience. The next round the instructor did not help me and I spent a lot of time trying to kick up into the pose. For just a minute fraction of a second I had it, on my own. That fraction of a second sent my mind reeling away from the stories I had always told myself about the pose and onto thoughts of actually doing the pose.

After class, when everyone, left I pulled my mat to the wall and began to kick up. Fear began to creep back in. My arms began to buckle underneath me. I began to feel discouraged.

Then, from a resting pose, I visualized myself in the pose. I visualized myself strong and holding a handstand, free of fear, strong, alive. I went back to the wall and kicked right up into my very first handstand. I held it, I breathed; I felt calm and thrilled at the same time. Curiously I noticed it didn't even seem that hard. I came down and a few minutes later decided to try again, just to be sure. I kicked right back up again.

I left for home that day feeling elated, and also rather thoughtful.

What made me suddenly get up into the pose?

First, I had totally let go of the pose. Looking at this from a yogic perspective, it can be what is called Ishvara pranidhana or non attachment. This is one of the niyamas or individual disciplines in yoga. I had no expectations. I was not tied to any result. I let the experience unfold and focused on the quality of the act rather than a specific outcome.

Second, I visualized myself as being in the pose, holding it with ease and strength. I then let go of the idea that I could not do it. It was just a story. We are full of stories that we tell ourselves day in and day out and these stories are not who we are. I let go of this particular story. I became present in that very moment as different from all other moments and allowed the experience to unfold.

There are other poses I tell myself I will never do for this reason or that; they have some other story associated with them. I hope that when I come to another story, I recognize it for what it is, just a story, and allow myself to see each experience for what it is, something new and different. Each moment is different and all we have to do is let it unfold, be present and see it for what it is. This, after all, is the true nature of yoga.

Copyright 2009 Eliza Bicknell
Yoga Instructor, owner and founder of Lotus Petal Yoga, Eliza Bicknell is a creative and inspired instructor. She has completed long term (200 hour +) teacher training and through years of personal practice has developed a strong and diverse background in yoga and meditation.