Headstands Part 1 (or that time I tried to stand on my head, and remembered how to somersault instead)

I watched my yoga teacher as she dusted off her hands and walked to the middle of the circle we had formed with our mats.  It was a hot, humid August morning, and we had found a clearing under some large oak trees where I could watch the leaves rustling in the breeze every time I looked up. Our teacher, Hana, stepped off her mat and into our circle, looking for a flat spot to demonstrate a headstand.  I was quickly learning one of the biggest challenges of yoga in the park: the uneven surface of the earth.  Beneath my mat was a landscape of roots, soil and tufts of grass that teased my balance, but were one of the greatest benefits of yoga in the park as well: if I fell out of a position, I was guaranteed a gentle landing.

I first tried yoga nearly 10 years ago, and before I came to Mula Yoga, headstands were squarely in the category of “things my body cannot do”, so I never tried.  In the nearly 10 months since I first walked through Mula’s doors, my courage, strength and confidence in my abilities have expanded more than in all my previous years of practice, culminating in today: my first attempt at a solo headstand.  I have had been attending yoga classes on and off for years, first at my gym, and then at several studios in my neighbourhood.  For the most part, the studios felt like a gym with herbal tea and Buddhist artwork.  The primary purpose of a yoga class seemed to be fitness, and the teachers taught accordingly: sun salutations, leg work, ab work and then some stretching before easing into relaxation.  Sometimes I would find a pose that felt good: a sweet stretch, a good burn, and I would want to stay there a little longer, but even a few extra seconds would leave me 3 steps behind the rest of class and struggling to catch up.  I liked yoga.  I liked that it made me feel strong and lean, that it loosened my legs after long runs, but just like my classmates, I considered it exercise.   What I know now is that although I liked yoga, I had not yet learned how to enjoy it, to savour it, to truly practice it.

And then I attended my first class at Mula Yoga: Tuesday morning Vinyasa with Hana.  I had done hundreds of Vinyasa classes, and felt fairly confident I would check this one off as another solid workout.  I could not have been more wrong; this class was hard!  More than just physically challenging, it was mentally challenging.  Hana did not follow the “gym class yoga” flow I was familiar with.  Yes, there were sun salutations and leg work and stretches, but they were different: Hana encouraged us to explore, to settle into a pose and feel all it had to offer, to savour both the “sweetness” of the stretch and the “spiciness” of the burn, to challenge ourselves and trust our strength.  Most importantly, she made yoga fun.  Headstands were no longer something “my body cannot do”, but a mental and physical challenge I would work towards while I played on my mat.  I left that first class exhausted and addicted.  Over the next 21 days, I took full advantage of my unlimited new student pass to try as many classes and teachers as my schedule – and my body – allowed.  I learned to love the slow flow early morning Vinyasa, the playfulness of Energy Flow classes that made me forget I was holding poses I once considered myself incapable of, and the relaxing late evening classes that prepared me for sleep.  I was also learning what it feels like to be part of the Mula family, the community that Hana and her fellow teachers have created.

Over the next 10 months, I learned what it truly means to practice yoga, as opposed to doing yoga.  It was no longer another form of exercise, but became my time to connect with myself, ground myself, energize myself and learn about myself.  One of the biggest lessons Mula has taught me is to trust myself and my strength.  Every time I conquer a fear or face a challenge on the mat, it reminds me that I have that same strength off the mat: physical strength and courage translates to the mind and soul as well.

And now here I was, at my first Park Yoga class on a Thursday morning in August, watching Hana demonstrate how to get into a headstand on uneven ground, and I was going to try it!  I got into position, placed first my hands and then my head onto my mat, pressing into the soft ground beneath me.  My fear melted away: if I fell, I knew I would have a gentle landing.  I pushed into the ground, braced my core, and lifted one foot off the ground; I pressed harder, started to lift my other foot…and somersaulted over the grass, landing on my neighbour’s mat.  She looked over and smiled with encouragement.  We were in this together, both of us members of the Mula family.

I successfully completed my first headstand prep two days after writing this post


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