Just Falling.

headstandHey all,

Happy (almost) Raw Wednesday!

I did have a raw recipe planned for you guys. But since today’s yoga class was particularly notable, I figured I’d take a break from the usual food chatter to tell you about it.

A few months ago, I did a guest post for my friend Melissa explaining the progression of my yoga practice. For those of you who missed it, my transition from gym-rat to occasional yogi was not a smooth one. It took lots of practice and self-examination for me to receive the lessons that yoga has to offer. When I finally did, my life and health were forever enriched. And while I still struggle with the standard array of Type A difficulties—impatience, fear, tension—my experience with yoga is deepening by the day.

Of course, the Type A New Yorker doesn’t entirely disappear when I hit the warm chambers of Laughing Lotus. She merely retreats, bowing to her wiser, more open-minded sister. This is the Gena who manages to banish stress and tension, if only for an hour; the Gena who has trained herself to experience yoga not as a competition or test, but as a journey towards self-knowledge. And if I’m lucky, that side of my character manages to emerge from the yoga studio and stick around for a while when my practice is done.

But Type A Gena still interrupts my practice once in a while, chiding me for not perfecting a pose or encouraging me to dwell on the work day when I ought to be listening to my breath. And no pose manages to draw Type A Gena out more immediately than salamba sirsasana: headstand pose. Though I’ve been practicing regularly for nearly two years now, I still hit panic mode whenever this pose (or any inversion, really) comes up. It isn’t a matter of missing core strength, or physical discomfort, or a shoulder injury, or something amiss with my inner ear. It’s good, old-fashioned fear of falling. Terror, really. Period.

For my first year, I wouldn’t try it at all. Whether we were practicing against a wall or in the middle of the room, headstand time meant child’s pose for me. And all the while, my Type A self would be exclaiming in frustration: “Seriously? A year of yoga, and this is how you respond to headstands? Look. Look at the woman next to you. She’s probably an octogenarian. And she’s doing headstand. What’s your excuse?”

With a lot of practice and patience, I managed to get comfortable with headstand practice against the wall. But to this day, headstands in the center of the room terrify me. I’ve heard all the wisdom, believe me: tuck your knees in, stay in a ball for a while, if you need to fall, tuck in your chin and roll out of it. And my favorite: “have you ever just considered falling?”

Well, something came over me today. It was one of those perfect yoga classes: I was warm, my joints were open, I’d already moved through a number of poses that tend to be hard for me (side crow, for example) with no trouble. It’s been a hard week for me personally, and the practice was helping me re-connect with the reserves of inner strength and calm that I’ve been trying (not always successfully) to channel. And for the first time, my reaction to headstand pose (in the center of the room) was neither avoidance nor Type A perfectionism, but genuine desire for mastery. Without a moment of hesitation, I prepared myself to move into headstand.

And then the miraculous happened. I got up. Not halfway, not in preparation. All the way. For about 1/18th of a second, it felt amazing.

And then I fell.

I fell, not gracefully or nimbly or properly, by rolling into a somersault, but hard, fast, and flat on my back. With a reverberating bang.

It hurt. A lot. And the pain was quickly joined by a heaping dose of embarrassment, as the lithe, Lululemon clad yogis around me—most of whom could probably do headstands in their sleep—asked me whether or not I was hurt.

After a brief consultation with Vanessa, my lovely yoga instructor, I surmised that I was OK. And I even had the nerve to try (and topple over) again. Vanessa and I decided that I’d start practicing falling on a padded surface, so that I’d have the guts to keep trying my center of the room headstand. And I marched out of class with a giant, triumphant grin on my face.

icepackTwo hours later, as pain and aching set in above my right buttock, I was frantically Googling herniated disks and sciatica. I had hit my lower back hard, and visions of irreparable lower back damage and a lifetime of recurrent injuries flashed before my eyes. (Note to everyone: WebMD really IS the devil.)

But as the hours passed, and I made it home to stretch out, I realized that the back pain had subsided almost completely (probably with the retreat of my own anxiety), and that I’ve just got a nasty bruise. The lesson? My worst fear happened: I did a headstand, and I fell as clumsily and precariously as one can. And I lived to tell the tale.

One of the challenges I often discuss with my clients is the fear of self-improvement. Countless clients confess that they know they can upgrade their diets—they can make healthier choices—but they’re afraid. Afraid of what, you ask? Well, afraid of failure, for one thing: what if they hit a stride with healthier eating, only to take a proverbial tumble? And what if, having encountered one setback, they’re afraid to brush themselves off and try again? Many clients also confess that they’re afraid, paradoxically, of success. As frustrating as patterns of inertia and fear can be, they’re also comforting. If self-improvement is always on the horizon, hoped for but systematically avoided, one never has to face the pressure that comes with being one’s best self. And evading challenges, while exasperating and wearisome, means never having to hold oneself to a new and improved standard. This is true with dietary change, career advancement, the deepening of one’s relationship, and so much more.

For me, today, it was about yoga. It was comfy to crouch in child’s pose for two years and avoid headstand. But I know my body and mind well enough to know that I’m capable of facing it—I just haven’t wanted to confront a whole new dimension of yoga challenges. And today, for the first time, I wanted to try.

And honestly? I’m pleased. Sure, it was scary. Sure, I was embarrassed. Sure, I’m kind of scared to try again (and believe me, when I do, I will be asking my instructor to spot me). Sure, I’m sitting on an icepack right now (sexy, right?). But I took on a challenge that’s been on the horizon for a while now, and I’m glad I did.

So. That’s my rambling attempt to assure you all that trying something you’re afraid of (headstands), and confronting the worst case scenario that lurks within that fear (falling) has a payoff. Challenge yourselves to face the efforts and improvements that have eluded you till now. Chances are, you’re all more than capable of overcoming your own hesitation—and that a happy sense of achievement lies beyond. With any luck, the achievement will arrive without an ice pack. (And yes, I promise, bloggies, that if this turns out to be anything more than a bruise or persists for more than a day or so, I’ll give my doc a call, etc..)

And just a few weeks ago I was telling a friend that yoga/life metaphors are getting old.

Have a great raw day tomorrow, friends! Check back and tell me all about it.


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  1. Hi! This just happened to me today so your post was very encouraging! How long did it take for your back to heal? *icing right now

  2. Gena, blessings.
    I am a big fan of your blog, though this is my first time commenting. I also am a yoga teacher, and I often find myself leading students into sirsasana for the first time. As a little take-home gift for my students, I made a headstand mini-workshop video. Please do check it out and email me if you have any questions. You are such a blessing to us all.
    In health,

  3. as a wise yogini once told me: that’s why they call it yoga practice – not yoga perfect!

  4. Great post, Gena! I love it. And good for you for pushing yourself to try something you’ve been afraid of in the past! I totally relate to this headstand fear!!

  5. Gena, thank you for this post and for sharing your experience with integrating your personality with your yoga practice. I really appreciate your insight and perspective on this topic. It rung especially true to me, because I have a Type A approach too, and often I have to focus on not letting my negative self-talk detract me from what I intend to accomplish. It is indeed hard to let go of expectations and just be accepting of whatever comes up in a yoga class, but it sounds like you had a very fulfilling headstand experience. Best wishes!

  6. i don’t know why it just submitted without my permission haha but i wanted to add to that before it sent that i am excited for inter break which come us in two weeks after finals and i will have the opportunity for meditation and yoga every day and i cant wait. it really is essential to my life, and thi semester was a big lesson in balance. so thanks for sharing about something that hit home for me.
    ps, checkk out my blog

  7. thank you for talking about fear and type a discomforts [which stem from fear]. ive been going through those emotions lately and havent had time for yoga, with twenty three units as a pre med student.

  8. You are so right that a self-sabotage of sorts can be comforting. I’ve definitely felt that way, at times, in regards to how/what I eat. I think it’s not just the fear of success, but also the fear of failure when you are truly trying your best, that continues such a cycle.

  9. Beautiful post 🙂

    You also absolutely right that WebMD is the devil. No matter what it always turns the littlest things into something catastrophic.

  10. This post was so beautiful Gena!! You have such a way of choosing the perfect word at the perfect time. Must be all that reading you do!

  11. Yay–congrats on that 1/18 of a second–which will grow longer and longer each time! And thanks for the inspiration to go out and do something new and exciting and be willing to try. 🙂

  12. You go girl! I know you’ll be able to rock that headstand soon. Your right though in this post about overcoming your fears. I have been wanting to take another class at my gym, perhaps spinning or something but I am too afraid. Im afraid of failure, that I will be the worst. So instead i just stick with whats comfortable. I know I should challenge myself but still. Ahh!

    One of these days I will get the guts and just go for it 🙂

  13. An old roommate and I used to tell each other to stand on our heads when we were feeling cranky/moody. We did this because we wanted to help each other feel better, and we knew that there is a definite shift when you turn your world- and your body- upside down. Physically, inversions place the head below the heart, which has many positive benefits including strengthening the core, providing vital organs such as the brain, heart and lungs with fresh oxygenated blood, reversing the effects of gravity on the body, and increasing circulation. All of these physical rewards help us mentally by quieting the mind and instilling a sense of calm. Once you figure out exactly where that point of balance is in a headstand, your body will remember which muscles to engage, and you will eventually just start to float in mid-air (with that sense of calm!). Way to go facing your fears!

  14. Just gorgeous. I never would try to do a headstand. Ever. I so hope your back is better today. I agree, Web MD is the devil. I read last night that you can have a heart attack from coughing too hard. Lovely. Despite your pain, you should be very proud that you overcame your fear. I don’t know if I’d try it again, though 😉

  15. Congrats for going for it no matter what! I have a crippling fear of heights but did rock climbing in high school and now whenever seeing something beautiful requires going up some scary stairs, or climbing up somewhere, I know I can do it and I don’t let the fear stop me. I could see this accomplishment transferring over to other parts of your life where fear might hold you back.

    Beautiful post as always.

  16. Thanks, Gena. What a great post! I have no problems with headstands but I cry every time I attempt plow pose. I have a terrible fear of putting weight on the back of my neck! thanks for the encouraging words. Sometimes it’s really important to let everything go and just do it!

  17. Gena, I love this! I’ve been doing the same thing with handstand against the wall. I can do the other inversions against the wall (after 10 years of practice), but the handstand alludes me! I think I’m going to grow a pair and ask the teacher to help on Friday night! Really inspiring post!

  18. Oh Gena I love this!!! Fear of success or trying something new is absolutely terrifying for so many of us. You have no where to go but up from here.

  19. I can do a beautiful tripod headstand in the middle of the room. For some reason I feel enough control in that pose to know I’ll come out of it the right way when I can’t maintain it. But I’m not at all flexible, so I know if I fell the wrong the wrong way (as you did) in a classical headstand, I’d do some serious damage. So I do it against a wall. It’s funny how knowing the wall is there allows me to assume the pose. I started yoga late in life, so I don’t know if I’ll ever manage that pose in the center of the room. I’d need more flexibility, and more core strength too. Sometimes, we’re supposed to work with fear, sometimes the fear is there for a reason. The wisdom, I guess, is in knowing the difference.

  20. If I had to pick one website to read everyday for the rest of my life it would be this one. You’re an amazing writer with a powerful message. This story really touched me both literally and metaphorically. By the way I could never get sick yoga/life stories. Keep up the good work 🙂

  21. What a positive and informative, and even personal, post. Nicely done. Personally this past year for me has been one of undue personal struggles. Physically I cannot do anything I once did. Each day I tell myself that I a walk is better than no walk. And that in future, with patience, I might do a little bit more. I find yoga fascinating and would love to do classes but cannot afford the expense. I occasionally attempt a 15-20 minute at home routine which is flailess, but I try and it is better than not trying. Unfortunately, my abilities and body don’t go beyond the basic poses , like a triangle. To say “I will do it someday” is rather irritating at times…I seem to keep saying that and I may be 40 years old before I get to do the things I want. But in life we do what we can do. Great job in trying Gena, it is inspirational. I am yet to balance on one foot for longer than 3 seconds, you can do more than you recognize.

  22. I love falling out of a yoga pose. I am first unbelievably embarrassed, I’ll scan the room to see if anybody noticed my mishap and then I laugh hysterically. I have to remind myself that I am not going to the Yoga Olympics anytime soon and it is all in good fun.

  23. I fall on my ass in every yoga class, I’m sure you do it gracefully compared to me. I made Heather laugh electrically when we took a class together.. I don’t mind it anymore because it feels amazing to have those 2 seconds (or how ever many) you actually DID the pose.

  24. I had an instructor once tell me, “falling is a sign that you are working hard. I would rather train someone who falls than see someone do something 100 times effortlessly and perfectly. Falling shows true drive, commitment and effort.”
    …I fall a lot… That makes me pretty awesome! HAHAHAHA! 😉
    Congrats on your headstand! You are finding your own path through the yogi world!

  25. i never get tired of yoga = life stories. this was beautifully written and beautiful to read.

    ironically, i went directly into child’s pose when headstand came up in my yoga class on monday. maybe i’ll make it a new year’s resolution to try – near a wall. 🙂 hope you’re not too badly bruised!

  26. As a yoga instructor- These are the moments that make it worth it- not you falling- but seeing someone overcome a fear, or hesitation. Our first response to anything in life is to take the path of least resistance and just stay comfortable.. Cheers to you and your accomplishment!

  27. Awww I love this story! I’m really glad that you gave it a try and took a tumble. Falling, whether literally or metaphorically is part of life and as cliche as it sounds it is how we learn. I have ridden horses my entire life and I really believe that you have to fall off 10, 20, 30 times before you can consider yourself a ‘rider’. Often people hold themselves back and stop growing and learning because they are so afraid to fall off. Big mistake! Fall off, fall off again, and again, and even again – and then get back on!

  28. for your sake i hope it’s nothing more. i have persistent chronic back pain and no one knows the cause. most likely something like this might have caused it. there is such thing as pushing yourself too far.

  29. Congratulations, Gena! I am afraid of headstands too, although I enjoy them against the wall. I haven’t practiced for long, though, or imbued it with too much significance. The best analogy in my life would be trying softball last year- I’ve always been terrible at sports and terrified of demonstrating my inability. But I tried anyway, and played terrible softball with my classmates! It’s not a moral failure to be bad at something. I’m in a big dietary tumble right now after a long period of relative ease and joy- why is it so hard to get back on course when my actions are making me feel awful?

  30. great story! be proud of yourself and your fearless nature! I love LL. IN fact, I had drinks at the Flatiron Lounge (cutest bar ever) tonight a few doors down and realized I really need to visit again soon! I will always remember edward (an instructor) saying if you are comfortable going for a headstand in the middle of the room, do your thing, but only if it’s like your best friend. yoga, humor, humility…love it!

  31. Gena, good lesson today (though I hope you didn’t seriously hurt yourself!). It is true that you have to risk failure to grow – yoga as a metaphor – I like it!! Thanks for sharing and good luck when it comes to trying again!

  32. Such a good post…I too am trying to stop going to the gym so much and do yoga instead. It is really hard mentally and physically but I am getting better! I’ve made a lot of progress in just a year so I look forward to getting even better in the future.

  33. Headstands is scary pose for me too, so it is nice to know I am not alone. Fear holds me back a many things in my life, but baby steps is key.

  34. Gena gorgeous, we must be the mirrors and wisdom each other need this week. Just as you found insight in my blog, I have had a total epiphany of my own from reading your blog. Sometimes it’s the way someone says something that makes it just click doesn’t it? Thanks for your beautiful melodious writing, and yes I meant to say melodious! 🙂 xx

  35. Hi Gena, sorry you fell, glad you’re ok, and if I had a nickle for every time I had a yoga mishap, I’d be a rich woman! My practice has been a culmination of 10 years of daily (or nearly, but when I was 8.5 mos pregnant, I wasn’t doing asana or anything :)) asana practice and trying, falling, and getting back up. It totally sucks to fall as it can rattle your confidence for awhile, and of course, you can really hurt yourself. But I am so happy for you that you seem no worse for the wear on either of those fronts!

    As a practical matter, headstand: Start in downward dog, make a crown for your head with your hands, and walk your toes in and in and in, til they have to go up. If you are not strong enough to go up that way, I always tell students to wait. Donkey-kicking up is not a good method! Not saying that’s what you did but I always want people to stay super safe and not hurt themselves. If you need more detailed info, just email me 🙂

  36. Thanks for the reminder Gena. Sometimes it’s okay to fall. At least you tried. Hope your back feels OK tomorrow. Ice ice ice.

    P.S. You are such an amazing writer…to write such an inspiring post from a headstand mishap in a yoga class. I love it. 🙂

  37. This is such a funny coincidence! I’ve been dealing with the same thing in my yoga classes. I can do headstands against the wall, but not in the middle of the room. Today, I sat and watched as others did their headstands and felt discouraged that I still can’t do it. But the funny thing is that my yoga teacher has been talking about “falling in love” with yoga a lot lately. She’s been talking about how we often have one foot on the mat and one foot off, and eventually we have to decide whether to commit to/fall into yoga or not (or other things in our lives). And how part of the reason we often don’t commit is that we’re afraid that when we do, it still won’t be perfect. I definitely have that fear in many areas of my life, and when it comes to headstands, it’s the fear of falling that keeps me from really trying. So I commend you for being willing to fall, and I think I’m going to go practice right now and give it a try (but not near anything that I might fall into!)

  38. I need to give yoga a shot. I could do a headstand when I was five… and that’s the end of my gymnastics career. Inspiring post :]

  39. OH NOOOO! I hope your back pain goes away soon. Don’t get WebMD disease, that’s for sure! Take care, lady. xo

  40. I love yoga! I need to get into it more regularly, but my hectic schedule just doesn’t allow it right now. Your determination inspires me though! I am going to be taking classes at my future college sometime this winter. I cannot wait! 🙂

    Another question/concern about going raw:

    I have a lot of non-raw foods (bulk, especially, such as flours, rice, grains, etc). What should I do with all of that? I would like to use it and not let it go to waste, but I hate eating this stuff and then getting stomach issues. What would Gena do? =P

  41. I can totally relate! I am scared of headstands in the middle of the room too. My solution is to practice them in my backyard (or maybe a park for you New York City dwellers??). It doesn’t matter if I roll into a somersault on the grass.

    Well, as usual, Gena, I am inspired. Maybe next yoga class I will do more than just rabbit pose. Thanks for the post, and hope your bruise heals quickly!

  42. Congratulations on your SUCCESSFUL headstand! You’re a superwoman for even trying it and even greater for accomplishing it! Who cares that you fell? The pain you’re feeling is temporary and you’ll try it again and do even better.

  43. What a beautiful post. It’s amazing the numerous lessons we can take from the mat and apply to our everyday lives. And the art of falling, or to get to the point to fall from, is part of what yoga is all about.

  44. “as the lithe, Lululemon clad yogis around me”

    OMG this line is killing me! SOO funny and spot on!

    PS. my psych teacher says laughing lotus is amazing! cant wait to try!

  45. What a great post, Gena. There are so many things that we are all afraid of – and usually they are things that better ourselves. It’s like a self sabotage of sorts. You are a great inspiration!

  46. Sorry you fell 🙁 and I hope you feel better.

    But, I am sticking to child’s pose when it comes to head stands. They scare the crap out of me.

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