Tag Archives: Shirshasana



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.

What you focus on…

What you focus on…

Well… less than week after writing about not being able to do headstands, I managed to do two within three days!  First in Astanga class then during an amazing master class at Yogahaven led by one of my favourite teachers, Allie Hill.

With guidance and having the posture clearly broken down, step-by-step, I was able to come into Shirshasana up against the wall.  I even practised it again at the end of my class this morning when no-one was looking, just to make sure it wasn’t a fluke.  Having held on to years of fear around this posture I still can’t quite believe it!   For me, what is even more significant than getting to the beginning stage of practising Shirshasana against the wall is succeeding in actually facing my fear.  Though I am sure they don’t realise what this means to me, I am so very grateful to my teachers. 

It also makes me wonder what else, in time, might be possible.

Feeling the Fear

Feeling the Fear

I have a fear of rodents (squirrels don’t count – it’s the fluffy tails, I guess), Chuggers and handstands. 

Handstands and other inversions.  They strike fear into my core – something akin to what might be felt by a cow who has just been smiled at by the Burger King, maybe…  Even as a kid I wasn’t happily throwing myself around in cartwheels (I used to attempt a bizarre half-cartwheel/hop affair when required, usually for P.E. lessons or to show willing during school breaktimes).  In all my years on this planet I have, to date, never managed to do a successful headstand.  As I recall, I was one of the last people in my class to master (and I use that word very loosely) a forward roll.  Suffice to say I didn’t get my BAGA Award. 

During forearm balancing and headstand practice in Jivamukti class, my teacher looks me in the eye and she tells me, “You’re problem isn’t fear, it’s strength.”  I nod, but internally I am thinking, “Nope, pretty sure it’s fear…”  Don’t get me wrong, it is strength too.  I have tight shoulders and an apparent inability to hold myself up mixed in thoroughly with the aforementioned fear.  I’ve always had an irrational fear that my neck will snap if I try to do a headstand (or is that a rational fear?).  I understand that Shirshasana, ‘the king of asanas’ is an important, powerful posture but no matter how many times it is explained to me I don’t seem to be able to get my head around it (no pun intended).  I struggle to understand where I am supposed to distribute my weight and it all feels wrong.  Alien.  Uncomfortable.  Scary.  “Don’t think you’ll never get there,” my Jivamukti teacher kindly assures me.

And handstand practice.  Ah, handstand practice.  No matter how many times during flow class my lovely teacher says, “It’s fun”, I’m not inclined to agree with him.  That said, his handstands are amazing…

But recently, I’ve noticed something:  I’ve stopped inwardly groaning at the words, “handstand practice”. 

I’m not quite sure when it happened.  My physical expression of the posture hasn’t changed but something seems to have changed in my head.  And now rather than feeling like a part of the class where I need grit my teeth and simply get through, each little bunny hop is progress for me.  It’s as if with each bunny hop, even though I may only be inches off the floor, a teeny bit of the fear ebbs away.  Maybe one day soon, it might actually start to feel like fun, after all – who knows?

Headstands and forearm stands, well let me get back to you on those….