Yup, we all have them.
I LOVE practicing at home. As a teacher, daily asana self-study means I can instruct from my own experience of what to do—and what NOT to do.
In fact, I tried this exact pose you see above (chin stand scorpion) at home for the first time. Actually, I was on vacation in Iceland and enjoying a fiery practice in the living room of our chilly airbnb loft. I went for it, feeling excited and inspired and confident. The subsequent series of cracks in my neck were reminiscent of a chiropractic adjustment. I came down out of the pose, eyes wide with adrenaline, wondered momentarily if I had broken my neck, exhaled deeply and thought, “that was stupid.” I was lucky enough to laugh it off - and my neck was only a little sore the next day. The moral of the story is simple: know the “how to” basics before attempting a new asana. Now I know that the weight must stay mostly in the hands and the shoulders must remain active. Side note: I now practice this pose without the music from my cervical spine.
That’s just one of many examples of scary moments I’ve experienced on my yoga mat. Pretty much every time I first attempted an inversion, I immediately fell in a ridiculous or embarrassing way. I bowling-balled out of my first handstand, landing on another student’s mat. At my first EVER yoga class, I came up into headstand, froze, and fell flat onto my back with an echoing “THUD.”
It’s worth mentioning that not all scary moments need be about a physical experience. Sometimes asana practice can bring us face to face with thoughts, memories, traumas and emotions that we didn’t expect to see there (oh, hey, childhood gym-class trauma, you look good in Lululemon.)
We ALL have experiences like these. Even those Instagram famous yoga-lebrities (read: yoga celebrities; Cute, right??) you see executing a perfect one-handed handstand split on the precarious edge of something you’d rather not see them fall off of... yeah, sometimes they fall. Sometimes they get hurt. It is part of the practice to pick yourself back up, lessons learned, and carry on. How’s that for a life metaphor?
I asked a couple of committed yoga students and teachers: What has been their scariest moment on the yoga mat? How did they overcome it, or is it still a work in progress?
Greg McMahon, Professional Photographer @3dphotogreg
"Doing Head Stand in an open room with a person in front of you, and not having the wall to stop your forward momentum from falling forward into the person in front. If I don't get a spot next to the wall in a room, and we do headstand, I always ask for an assist. I know how to get up into head stand well, but my balance is still off, and I tend to fall forward."
Lisa Apatini, Certified Jivamukti Yoga Teacher @aigirinandini
"During my primary teacher training in 2013 I was deeply immersed in daily study for 1 month in Costa Rica. During the middle of the course, amidst much movement going on both within and with out, I found myself in the middle of one of our practice classes ready to have a breakdown. I did not know what would come out, in that forward fold, I faced myself facing myself, and I had to let go of what anyone would think or do in response to my process. Until that moment I realized I had always been holding my feelings back to a certain extent during practice. Remaining composed for reasons beyond being a disturbance to the class, for reasons of being unable to allow myself to be vulnerable. For feeling embarrassed, for being put on the spot, for being “that person”, for being everything that would only do a disservice to my honesty and authenticity. Unsurprisingly by teacher had sensed the moment coming and was right there over me cradling me in a cosmic yoga assist. So I let it go. It was loud. No one cared. I broke the fear. It was its time and place."
Gregory Weglarski, Owner of Yoga & Fitness Herald Square @greg_weareyfhs
"Probably my scariest moment on the yoga mat was when I tore something in my knee. I was doing a seated marichyasana spine twist. I received an adjustment to go deeper and thats when I felt it. I couldn't bend my knee much for the immediate days after that. I went back to practicing hot yoga every day and after six months of dedicated practice it healed. Practicing consistently and being gentle helped me overcome it. When I practice now, especially when it comes to yoga poses that involve the knees in such way, I approach with awareness. There's no fear that arises now. More of a feeling of gratefulness."
What are YOUR scariest moments? How did you overcome them?
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