Privilege Blog

Upside Down Backwards Right Way Round, Or, Saturday Morning at 10:02am

Two things happened in yoga this week. Don’t worry, the stories don’t require that you know the practice, or, if you know it, that you like it.

So first, a teacher substituted in my Wednesday beginning class, and taught at an intermediate level. I was fine, I’m ready to edge forward. But there was a woman attending her first session at this studio, and I could see she had trouble following along.

After class I went up to her and said, “Excuse me, I don’t mean to be intrusive, but I wanted to tell you, that was not a beginning class.” She thanked me. I thought I was helping, an experienced person to a novice. But as we spoke it became clear she hadn’t actually minded being out of her depth.

Back when I was working, I went to a few classes above my abilities.  Made me miserable. Never returned. The Wednesday novice was unperturbed, cheerful, ready to do it again. So who was the learned one, we wonder? I’m thinking, not me.

Second, on Friday, in an intermediate but slow-moving class that I love, I found myself briefly in an actual head-stand. If you wonder what that is, because, yoga is always making people go upside down and then calling it something, a headstand looks like this. (You’ll see the woman is really close to a wall. So was I.)

I’ve never had any pose-specific goals for yoga. I’ve wanted to become stronger, more flexible, to relax, to find peace. I assumed that I was never going to go all the way upside down; I didn’t really even mean to do it yesterday. But I followed what the teacher said, trusting in my Sturdy Gal history of strong arms. Very glad of a wall.

“Don’t kick up,” she said, “Just let your leg lift you.” Whoa. Up floated my 60-year old gams, as they might say in England.

And of course it may never happen again. I have no feelings one way or another about that, only the bright memory of 10 seconds upside down, upright. Felt like a bolt of light and breath ran from somewhere above my feet down my body to my head and out my hands.

I love the French word, “bouleversé,” I believe we can tame it for this experience.

Retirement is, for me, above all, the chance for a new relationship with success.

Have a wonderful weekend everyone.

35 Responses

  1. How wonderful that your legs floated up. Experiencing something like that is one of the joys of retirement. It’s great that you are trying new things and discovering new pleasures, perhaps especially when you don’t have an expectation of reaching some goal.

  2. I remember the first time I managed to do a handstand/headstand. I was 41. It felt like such an extraordinary moment! I haven’t really made inversions a standard part of my practice in the 15 years since, but it’s so nice to know you can!

    Also some some amount of anger at the gym teacher who couldn’t show me how to do it successfully when I was 11.

    1. @joannawnyc, So nice. And boo to that gym teacher! I used to be able to do it, I just remembered, when I was a kid. But why? And when? Lost in the sands of time.

  3. Yay! It’s a fantastic feeling when you amaze yourself, even when that’s not your goal.

  4. I love this. Good on you, as they also say in England. In my thirties I took yoga classes. After a lengthy pause, I’ve recently begun again. I have PTSD that began in infancy when I was born to a mom with postpartum depression. That PTSD, which I didn’t realize I had, was exacerbated by later traumatic events that forced me to recognize and deal with the PTSD. After I read PTSD expert Dr. Bessel Van der Kolk on yoga as a way to “own my own body,” I decided it would be a good addition to the walks I love. The power of yoga was underscored for me when I went to a Friday evening yoga class designed to calm the participants after a hectic week. The room was dark, there were votives flickering in the dim light; the instructor said she was going to concentrate on poses related to the stomach. To my surprise I found myself in silent tears as I worked through the poses. After the class, I mentioned this to the friend who had brought me to the class who is a certified yoga instructor. She told me we hold a lot of emotion in our stomach, which makes sense, since it’s our core in multiple ways. My body was releasing grief; it was also sending me a message. When I practiced yoga in my thirties, it never occurred to me to do a headstand, but recently for some reason I’ve been thinking about them. I love the Legs Up the Wall yoga pose, a simpler inversion, but one with significant positive effects on health and calm. The accomplishment of doing something I never considered before would be gratifying, and I think would have a ripple effect on the feeling of mastery and possibility in other areas of my life. Congratulations on floating up. I know just what you mean when you describe it that way. In my experience, floating up happens when we let go and be, and then flourish in unexpected ways. Once I’m past my concussion, which is still affecting me in a sometimes significant way (my doctor says six weeks, I’m at week four), and once I know it’s not contraindicated for me, I’ll explore a headstand. Who knows, maybe my concussion is making me think of headstands. It has made me wonder if our brain is what is sometimes called our soul. Without it working properly, I find it difficult to find the I at the center of Me. Thank you for the inspiration. Happy Saturday. xo.

    1. @Katherine C. James, I can imagine that if my brain goes it will be very disorienting, and scary too. I wonder about headstands and concussion. The crying I’ve experienced myself in certain poses – usually a twist – tears come to my eyes and strong emotion to my heart. And doing something wholly new is wonderful after trauma, even the very mild trauma of my mom’s emergencies. It makes you feel like you can be a different person than the one who was overtaken.

  5. Hi Lusa,
    Can you recommend an area yoga teacher/studio foe a beginner? Thank you.

    1. @Mary Kay, I recommend Peacebank, in Redwood City. It’s a wonderful space. The class I recommend for a true beginner is Mondays at 10:30am. Then, once you have gotten a little familiar, but not long after you begin, the Wednesday 10:30am class, taught by Emily. Extraordinary IMO. Good luck!

  6. I’m a novice (2 private sessions is to the total of my experience), and I was careful to ask which classes I should start with so I’m probably more like you. But after those two short sessions, I realize that I have found my place. No more weights and competition in the gym, but instead learning to listen to my body. I doubt a headstand is in the cards, but we’ll see.

    1. @Lynn, The listening to the body, the lengthening of the muscles, the balance, the flexibility, it feels really right for me at this time of my life. For some of us it’s perfect. Others hate it, and, who am I to say it’s their fault? It’s not. We’re all different. That’s why it’s so great to find your thing.

  7. I very much enjoy your essays on yoga. I’ve been a student for 20+ years. The best way to experience it is to just let go and experience it. The results can be amazing. I found the same to be true of golf, which I like to do alone, late in the afternoon.

    1. @Bitsy, Thank you, and how wonderful to have a 20-year history with the practice. And I couldn’t play golf if my life depended on it, terrible hand-eye coordination, which is why it is so wonderful that people can find their own physical activities. My 82-year old aunt plays golf, she goes on trips with a group, she loves it. i can see how it would share some qualities with yoga, for those who can actually hit a ball;).

  8. I am loving Yoga…
    your headstand just goes to show how you can do it if you have the confidence and are willing to try.

    Yoga is helping me with so many things in my life right now…
    except weight loss! I gained weight after Mom died due to stress eating and not taking time to walk as often…but I am going to get back on track and get serious about my eating. It’s been 3 months and I think I am ready…

    1. @Bungalow Hostess, I just think it’s good you focused on stress reduction after your mom died. Weight you have done before and can do again. But learning to be careful with oneself sometimes, so important.

  9. So I wanted to learn yoga. But wanted the easiest class given. No problem they said we have one for pregnant mothers. Perfect.Went to class early. Sat and watched people come in with mats and very professional looking clothes. Of course it was supposed to be for pregnant ladies. But I stayed waiting for it to become easy. It was so hard!!!!!!! These were pros who knew what they were doing. I would have loved if someone came up to me and told me that this really was a hard class. But I think they saw my gray hair and stayed away. The funny thing is I could stand on y head. That came to me from years ago being a kid and standing on my head, So I can stand on my head but never took another yoga class. Wish you’d been there with me.

    1. @Sandra Sallin, That is really adorable, that you can stand on your head and not do yoga. But also infuriating, and the kind of experience that made me write this post. I too wish I’d been there with you. Pregnant yoga, if the pregnant women have been doing it for a while, can be totally hard!

  10. I haven’t done a headstand in over a decade, but oh, I distinctly remember that feeling of letting your legs lift you. It’s not bad-weird but definitely a bit on the surreal side.

    I am glad you’re getting good juice out of life; I hope for a great deal of illumination and restoration and all-that-you-need.

  11. I love the idea that retirement can I’ve about a new relationship with success. Thank you for that thought.

  12. thank you so much for this post! I know how ‘yoga breakthroughs’ can have such resonance in the rest of our lives. As a teacher and practicer of yoga I have had so much personal growth from feeling strong in my body. From my first handstand I thought ‘i can stand on my own two hands!’. Inversions are so much fun and remind us to play! More recently I have been taking my practice inward and am (joyfully) exploring my inner landscape. Yoga is a journey that stays interesting for a long time if we find a good teacher and stay with it.
    Headstand is a great pose if you have a lot of strength in your upper body. If you have a TBI (Traumatic brain injury) or glaucoma or any deterioration of the bones in your spine it can also be harmful. A yoga class that focuses on functional movements and never pushes you to be anyone other than who you are is the best one to find. There are so many ways to get the benefits of yoga! thanks again for this lovely post!

  13. Sigh. I wish I had had a better experience with Yoga. Tried three classes at two local studios with 3 teachers. Just didn’t work for me.

    1. @Sue Burpee, I was thinking of you in my first sentences above! My stepmother, an extremely fit person, feels as you do. On the other hand, you like to bike, and I really really don’t. So clearly you know what works for you and that’s the best thing.

    1. @Mary Kay, No worries! And you are more than welcome. BTW, the Monday class is taught by Lorraine, who is a woman in her 40s-50s, at a guess, so make sure she is teaching if you go. You can check the schedule on their website, they do post substitutions.

  14. “Retirement is the chance for a new relationship with success.” Oh, boy! That statement makes my body flush all over with epiphanyness.

    I’m 1.5 years into retirement. (See — I still think in decimals.) But I recently agreed to “go back” and help out an old client. It’s a good gig. A short business trip to a Big City. The fee will pay for two luxe cruises. I love the clients. I get to dress up again. It’s perfect.

    But … I now have that familiar flame of anxiety blooming right next to the other-colored flames of challenge, achievement, admiration, and self-righteousness. It’s so clear I don’t want that anxiety-colored flame around anymore

    Today’s post-retirement success? At 5:45 am I was fully caffeinated, astride my zero-turn lawn mower, heading toward a fenceline. Bliss! :)

  15. Hi Lisa, for years yoga classes stressed me so badly. I’ ve only recently realised that I was in the wrong classes for me. Still haven’t cracked the inversions…bit I’ve learnt to accept that. No room for high maintenance egos in the yoga studio! Mary

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