I recently taught a 1 hour and 45 minute yoga class themed around two yoga poses: handstand and tree. The sanskrit for handstand and tree share the same root word: वृक्ष (vṛkṣaḥ) which means tree. If you translate the sanskrit for handstand more literally it actually means “downward facing tree.” I love this connection and the verticality, the rootedness, the uprightness it conveys.
And yet, I haven’t personally done a handstand in many months, having decided the most advanced thing I can do more recently is to lie myself down and rest rather than send myself into more strenuous hand-balancing inversions.
As the day approached to actually teach this very long workshop-style class, I felt some tension arise. First, my ego (and my upper chest) started getting edgy about doing a handstand with a bunch of students standing around my mat expectantly watching my every move.
I was actually considering asking a student who I know to show the pose for me while I talked them through it/explained what to do, but no such luck. The yoga students registered for the class were mostly unfamiliar to me and there was no way I was going to ask a random person to pop into a handstand on my behalf.
I agreed to teach this class months ago and the teacher I was covering for made flyers advertising my handstand-tree class so there was also no suddenly switching to something I could more easily do. (I went down that rabbit hole as well.) It was handstand or bust and the day had arrived for me to do my very best.
At the beginning of class I had each student share their name, pronouns, and something they would like to learn or receive today. I shared that I would love to learn how to be just a smidge better at teaching yoga (keeping expectations lower at times allows me to relax) and to make sure I was serving each of the people attending and their particular needs.
I had a sequence planned where we would reach the handstand portion about 70 minutes into class then wind down. But around 55 minutes everyone was voluntarily in child’s pose or lying down and all the students looked completely cooked. Maybe it was all the planks or the balancing poses but there was a hint of sogginess around the room and I knew that we needed strength for those handstands so I quickly pivoted to starting our upside-down time.
I showed this L-pose at the wall first and that pose is very doable for me so it was easy to explain the alignment and pop right in.
The students all tried L-pose and I saw ways I could refine what I was offering so I showed more possibilities and they tried again. Smidge better and serving the students: check!
And then it was handstand time. I explained the alignment as I was setting up and I spread my hands down into the mat. I kicked and made it only halfway towards the wall then hovered and landed down again. I told the students that I would try again but that I might not make it but at least they had the alignment and I would do my best.
And then they started clapping and woo-hooing and cheering “you can do it!” With their good cheer, I set myself up, kicked once, arrived on the wall, and converted my legs towards tree pose in handstand. I even hoovered in mid-air away from the wall like magic before clunking back towards the mat again.
What helped me to fly was letting go. I released my embarrassment and I reminded myself of my original intent to serve the students and to help them feel safe. I was doing a handstand not to impress them but to help the students understand how they could begin to enter this pose.
When I let go of the potential shame or awkwardness or strivingness, I was able to arrive. And I was able to fly for a few seconds at least.
Sometimes we need to remember how to be in the spacious sharing of our hearts rather than the grasping, clinging, perfecting qualities that are so preciously clung to by our egos. Our hearts are naturally spacious and want to share and connect while our ego is more singular and mostly cares if *I* look good, do it “right” or if the students respect my practice, and so forth forever.
Once I released my shame about not arriving in that handstand right away (which is totally natural even for teachers who handstand more than I do) I was able to be in the emptiness of my heart and my intention to help and support the students.
I’m absolutely certain that it was their cheering for me from their own sincere hearts (I really felt that they were absolutely rooting for all of us) that allowed me to connect to the space of my own heart and to arrive in the pose in a way that encouraged them to consider giving handstand a try.
Sometimes we have to get out of our heads and into our hearts. To remember why we’re here, what we’re hoping to convey, and to live into that space that connects all of us.
There’s a saying in acupuncture that most people have cool feet and warm heads while we want to have warm feet and cool heads. It’s easy to overthink, overworry, to get in our own way and forget that the space of our hearts is always available to us. We don’t have to do it perfectly. The space and sincerity are what matter most.
May you connect to the vast sky within you.