In this weekend’s yoga teacher training program, I’m teaching arm balances and inversions.
Of the four asana-based modules that comprise the eight modules of the entire program, this is probably the one that terrifies yoga teacher trainees the most. Many sign on to the program having never done an arm balance or an inversion in their life (beyond Adho Mukha Svanasana or the Downward Dog) and many bear the rational and necessary terror of falling on their faces or falling on their heads.
Guiding people through the process of confronting this deeply-entrenched fear—and managing the trials and tribulations that come with the process—is one of the reasons why I LOVE teaching arm balances and inversions. It took me five years to conquer my own fear of Sirsasana or the head stand (for those five years, I simply refused to even TRY), and it took me months to finally lift my feet in Bakasana or the Crow Pose. So when I start the module, I begin by telling my students that my qualifications to teach it are rooted in:
(1) an intimacy with abject terror expressed as variations of outright avoidance (“Nope, I’m not doing it now or ever”) and rational justification (“We’re not designed to bear weight on such fragile structures as our wrists, shoulders or necks.”);
(2) a familiarity with the disappointment, frustration and impatience generated by months of hard and often seemingly fruitless labor (“Dammit, I’ve been at this for TWO years!); and
(3) an acquaintance with the envy, resentment and wistfulness provoked by comparisons with kinesthetic geniuses who take five minutes to gracefully accomplish what took one two years to clumsily perform (“Oh, you mean lift my legs like this?”).
In short, I’ve been there (and I’m still there with some poses) and I’ve done that (and I’m still doing that with other poses). Then, I share with my students my motivations for teaching the module:
(1) for the sheer joy of witnessing the look of amazement and awe on people’s faces when they finally do something that, for them, has been literally impossible (and then witnessing all the subsequent leaps of faith and acts of courage they take in life as a result of that profound and visceral experience of “Oh. My. God. I can actually do THIS.”);
(2) for the fulfillment that comes from watching students grow stronger and more resilient in the face of seemingly intractable challenges and seemingly insurmountable obstacles; and
(3) for the happiness that arises from watching students stop comparing themselves to others, fall in love with their bodies (and through their bodies, their deeper selves), and celebrate the oh-so-tiny but oh-so-real victories (“I lifted my feet up for half a second!”) that constitute, for the most part, what progress looks like in yoga.
And then I end the introduction with the following invitations (which are essentially invitations to the same THING):
(1) be ready to play;
(2) be ready to fall;
(3) be ready to laugh; and finally,
(4) be ready to fly.
And then I step back and I let the yoga do its work.
It’s never failed.
It never fails.