How to Be…Upside Down

by Lindsay Timmington

I placed my hands on the ground about six inches away from the wall.  I splayed my hands wide and pressed down through my knuckles.  I shifted my weight forward onto my hands, trying to remember every bit of instruction that was filtering into my brain in an attempt to translate into my body.

I began donkey kicking my legs up into the air.  First the right, then the left.  Back and forth I went, crashing my feet down in the most graceless manner possible and then shooting them back up in the air again.  I was searching for balance.  An upside down state of grace.  Attempting to stand on my hands, feet zipped together, toes pointed in the air.  Handstand.  I was chasing it.

I sighed, my feet returned to the floor and I sat back on my heels.  Looked around the room.  All my classmates, my fellow yogis were hovering beautifully in the air, pinnacles of strength and confidence.  And then there was me.  On the floor.  A hot mess.   I took a deep breath in and exhaled out of an open mouth.  I tried to re-connect to everything we’d been learning.  Wherever I was, was fine.  It was called yoga practice for a reason.  Stay on the four corners of your own damn mat, Lindsay.

The instructor walked over.  A gentle, kind man with a fervent passion for yoga and teaching he always took pity on me in class as one of the least experienced students in the teacher training program.  “Let me spot you,” he said.  Again, he walked me through the steps, this time drawing me further away my crutch, the wall.  I breathed in, pressed down through my hands, shifted my weight forward and kicked first my right, then my left leg into the air.  I felt his hands grab my ankles, supporting me, helping bring both my legs into the air above my head.  “Ground down through your hands, feel your shoulders move away from your ears, roll your tailbone toward your heels!” he said enthusiastically as if it was even remotely possible for me to ingest all this AND keep my feet up AND find handstand AND not break my head in the process.  “Breathe!” he said excitedly, “Breathe!”  I’d stopped breathing.  My head was spinning, my eyes were watering and I had no idea what the hell was happening in my body.  I started breathing again, and focused on his strong hands around my ankles, when suddenly, they were no longer there.  I panicked.  My right arm gave out, elbow collapsed and I came crashing down on my shoulder.  I crumpled into a heap, shock waves of pain racing down my shoulder and into my fingertips.  My ego though, that hurt the most.

“You okay?”  He asked, reaching down to help me up.  I nodded, certain that if I opened my mouth I’d begin to cry.  “Good,” he said, “Do it again.”   I stared at him.  He looked me in the eye, “Do it again,” he said firmly.  I released my held breath, “But—” I began.  “Lindsay,” he said.  “Do it again.”

I rested on my knees momentarily.  Took a deep breath in.  Planted my palms.  Shifted my weight forward.  Kicked my right leg up halfheartedly.  I felt him next to me.  Close.  I exhaled.  Breathed in.  And without thought or doubt, kicked right leg, then left.  His hands captured my ankles.  Firm.  Holding tight.  He didn’t say anything but let me feel my way into the pose.  I shut my eyes.  Reached through my toes for all I was worth.  And he let go.  A second.  Maybe two, but I hovered there in the air, by myself.  And then he grabbed my legs again, before I could panic or second guess myself and slowly helped me lower to the ground.  As I sat back up, he reached for my shoulder.  “Just like that,” he said with a smile, and walked away.

From that moment on, I became obsessed with inversions.   Anytime I was near a wall I went upside down.   I’d bring my feet up, feel them touch the wall behind me, and secure with my safety net I’d begin to play, bringing right foot away momentarily and then left.  Left, then right.  Finding moments, brief, beautiful moments where I floated upside down of my own volition and strength.  And then as quickly as it had happened, usually when I began thinking too much about it, my feet would fall back towards the wall.  I’d return to the floor.

I moved away from the wall.  Asked my husband to spot me as I moved upside down.  He tried, but had no idea what to do, what I needed or how to be of support.  More often than not I failed in my attempts when he spotted me.  I stopped asking him and moved back to the wall.  And then away from it.  And I learned, very quickly to be comfortable with falling.  To fall gracefully.  To laugh when I flipped over completely and landed flat on my back.  Learned how to handle my failure.  I’d rub whatever I’d bruised on the way down, shake it off, and go at it again.

They say one of the biggest obstacles to any inversion is fear.  For me that was especially true, though I suspect it was less about hurting my physical body in falling and more about the fact that I was literally turning my entire world, everything I knew and held familiar, upside down.  I was challenging my own status quo and that was terrifying.

I believe that you keep getting handed the same lesson until you learn it.  It may come in different forms, from different people and situations but it always returns until truly learned.  And indeed, during the time of my donkey kicks, my world was spinning out of control, threatening to go upside down and I desperately fought to keep that from happening.  Each time something started to kick up I’d panic and slam it back down.  The last thing I wanted was my feet off the ground, for there was my sense of control, safety, security.  I looked everywhere, outside of myself, for support.  To hold me up, to keep me from falling.

And despite my best efforts, my world still flipped upside down, dragging me along with it.  Through a heartbreaking divorce and one tremendous life transition after another. For months and months, I held on kicking and screaming until I was too exhausted to fight anymore.

And only then, when I had nothing left,  I let go.  I let it be.

And that’s when I found handstand.  All alone on the center of my mat in a crowded classroom.

My legs floated, right then left.  And there I hovered, toes reaching to the sky, in the air.

Supported by no one other than myself.

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