Yoga Speak: Weightlessness

Anne connects to her nine-year-old self in yoga.

I was pretty lucky to have enjoyed a fairly carefree childhood. I have great memories, especially of summer evenings, when all my neighborhood friends would gather on the front lawn to play games, ride bikes and stay out until it got dark.

In my elementary school years, I was actually pretty adventurous. I used to hop on the back of my friend’s bike, and he would drive wild all over the streets, careening down the most hilly ones at top speed. We would do the same on his skateboard, riding double and hanging on for dear life.

He tied a stick to a rope to a tree, and I hopped on and swung over the backyard’s creek from one bank to the other, until I had to jump before risking getting stuck still over the water. I would ride my bike with no hands, fearless, and walk on the stilts my dad made. I would grab the top of the garage while straddling a unicycle that belonged to the boy across the street and pedal from one side of the driveway to the other.

We even climbed inside a tire tube and rolled down the hill on the side of the house. The front lawn was like a gym mat, and we would do somersaults, back bends, walkovers, handsprings and cartwheels until the stars came out.

These I consider the weightless times of my growing up years. I remember that expanded feeling inside my chest when it was time to go out to play at the end of the day after dinner. My biggest concern was whether it was still light enough to stay outside.

I am pretty lucky to have enjoyed that weightless feeling again, and it has happened in the yoga studio. In fact, it happened one summer morning during the inversion segment of our class.

As usual, we moved our mats to the wall. I placed both hands down in front of me, gearing up and trying to visualize myself in an upside down mountain pose where the body is stretched tall and straight and strong. Again and again, I attempted to go up into a handstand. As before, I popped into several hand stands, only to have one foot or the other tap the wall behind me as I played at the balance, trying to get both my feet to stand on the ceiling.

I have a tendency to tilt to the right, pushing into my right palm to try to come back to center. I listened to the various directions the instructor called out, even if not to me, and repeated the effort several times. 

When it was finally time to bring our mats back to the center of the room, I figured I would give it one more go. I did not really have time to think, to visualize or gear up.  One more go. Without giving it a second thought, I kicked up easily, found the sweet spot and lingered upside down. There was no pressure in my palms, no attempt to keep the balance. With no thought at all, I was just suddenly dangling there. Upside down. Weightless. 

That expanded feeling in my chest, from when I was 9 years old, came back like it was yesterday.

I am pretty lucky to have enjoyed such success twice so far in more than a year of yoga. I guess, for me, finding handstand with no thought and no effort is an exercise in itself. Clearing my mind as it must have been as a young child seems to be an integral part of my success. It sounds so simple; yet, as with the hand stand itself, it remains a challenge.

My newest goal is to do a handstand in the middle of the room, away from the wall. This will be an even bigger challenge as I will have to not only clear my mind but also be as fearless as that girl swinging over the creek and zooming down the hill, feet off the bike pedals and hands in the air.

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