Tag Archives: Feeling the Fear

Leela Time

Leela Time

‘Leela’ means ‘play’ in Sanskrit. I learned this at my yoga home because that’s the name of the style of Hot Yoga which is taught there.  ‘Leela’ is something that Stewart Gilchrist also touched on during his  workshop with us last month.

At the weekend, we had some spontaneous ‘Leela Time’ when one of my fave teachers, Allie led us through some yoga-freestyling in the park.

It was so great to have a play at mixing in some moves we don’t usually do in class with the added bonus of being outside on a sunny afternoon.

When we moved onto headstand practice I found myself feeling a bit scared without the safety of a wall.  But I needn’t have been so worried – Allie guided us through step-by-step.

After having a go with the help of Allie and my partner, I have a few attempts on my own, trying to get to that mid-way point where I can balance with my legs bent.  I manage it for a few seconds and then… I fall out, landing on my back and staring up at the sky.   And actually, it’s kind of… fun (?!)   I then remember being in a Jivamukti class where our teacher, Emma told us that sometimes the most fun bit is falling out.  At the time I was seriously doubtful about that, but now I’d done it I ate my words.  I couldn’t believe it – all this time I’d been holding on to this fear over what would happen if I fell out of a headstand.  It felt like a bit of a breakthrough.  I hold my hands up – Emma was right.

In the park there’s a bit of chatter about what we should do next, then I’m not sure who says it but I hear:

“Let’s do handstands!” 

I’m fairly quiet most of the time but now I go stone cold silent.  I instantly feel tense and I’m thinking, “Handstands?!  Now?!  I really don’t think I feel ready. I mean a few bunny hops in class is one thing but -“

That thought is broken by Allie telling us that Leon (Handstand Guru) is on his way over give us some coaching.

Pants.  We’re really going to do this.

We split into pairs to practice and it’s my turn to have a go.

Leon: “When you kick up, just really go for it!”

Me:    “Erm, okay… Are you going to watch?”  (TRANSLATION: “I really, really, hope you’re not going to watch.”)

Leon: “Yeah.”


Then as I take a deep breath, it dawns on me that we’re standing in the middle of a bustling park on a Sunday afternoon, so it suddenly feels like a lot more sets of eyes are possibly watching and about to see me land on my head… 

Except I didn’t. 

It took several attempts, but to my complete shock I got there.  Twice!  My partner spotting me and supporting my feet meant I didn’t instantly collapse into a heap.  For a few moments I saw the world upside down.  And I liked it!

This doesn’t mean I am now instantly ‘cured’ of feeling any trepidation the next time I try a headstand or handstand – even though the fear is gradually diminishing I know myself enough to realise it will take a lot more practice to get anywhere near that stage.  But there is something quite powerful in knowing that you’ve done something once.  It clarifies that it’s not impossible whatever your cynical side might say.  When you’ve done something once it means it is possible to do it again.   Big thanks to Allie and Leon for their guidance!

Afternoon yoga in the park was so much fun – it made me want to play more.  Here’s to more ‘Leela Time’!



I have just begun Astanga classes at my yoga home.  This is not my very first experience of The Primary Series.  I had a brief introduction years ago on a series of beginners’ classes with Leela Miller.  Leela was incredible, but I never went back beyond those classes.  I felt so intimidated by my surroundings and by the other people in the room who really didn’t appear to be beginners – they looked like ‘real’ yogis (or at least, the perception I had of what yogi’s looked like) – I certainly didn’t.  I felt so embarrassed and out of place.  In some ways I wish I’d had the courage to go back to those classes because Leela was such an amazing teacher, but at the same time I think I just wasn’t ready yet.  My head was in a different place then. 

Some months later, I got myself a copy of David Swenson’s  practice manual and tried bits at home, where no-one else would see me, but it all still seemed so impossible.  Over the years I felt that maybe I should get rid of that spiral bound-tome taking up space on my shelf – it wasn’t like I ever used it, after all.  But something inexplicable always stopped me giving it away to the local charity shop… Then quite randomly, a friend bought me John Scott’s book, ‘Ashtanga Yoga’ as a present one Christmas.  Maybe they knew something I didn’t?

Anyhow, I am currently a handful of classes in and one thing that hasn’t changed since that beginners course all those years ago is that I am not very ‘good’ (for want of a better word). Not good at all. 

So why, this time, do I keep going back?

Oddly, I feel that not being able to do so many of the postures is partly why I now like it. I think it has some different things to teach me.  Like taking myself less seriously…

“Did you just give up?”  My teacher, Sally jokingly asks.  Her question snaps me out of my thoughts and I realise that’s exactly what I’d just done.   Moments before I’d watched Sally demonstrate Supta Konasana and instead of attempting it along with the rest of the class I was just sitting on my mat thinking about how my body was not going to be able to go there.   What was I doing?  If I adopted that attitude for every posture not yet available to me (don’t even get me started on Navasana…   ) then I’d be sat motionless on the mat for the majority of the ninety minutes.  So, I give Supta Konasana a go and…  I find myself flailing around like a beetle on its back.  I look ridiculous.  And I laugh. 

And it’s okay. 

This is the start of the journey.  With dedication and patience maybe one day the impossible will become possible, as I have just begun to experience with Shirshasana, for instance. It was with Sally’s guidance that I recently got into my first ever headstand, against the wall, after years of terror around this pose.  However, the big lesson for me here was about how I choose to show up in my practice.  If I can stay honest and sincere on the mat along the way, and have the courage to keep going even when my ego tells me otherwise, then that feels like a greater achievement than whether my body can bend into all those shapes.