This last weekend I came face to face with one of my fears - handstands or being upside down. I remember there was a time when I was happily cartwheeling and tumbling as a child, so I don’t 100% know when it first developed.
The fear first made itself apparent was in a yoga class perhaps around 10 years ago. I was testing the waters with handstands preparatory steps when I was assisted into a handstand. The scream of sheer terror breaking all semblance of serenity in a yoga class was seared in my memory. Despite developing my strength and flexibility so that I could "better do inversion", the fear of being upside down had always gnawed at the back of my consciousness each time I move into inversion poses. I have worked on headstands at a wall but never again have I tried a handstand.
Serendipitously, I came across a weekend handstand workshop and on an impulse decided that it would be nice to be finally conquer the fear by learning the techniques and trying in a safe environment. This was all good in theory until I was assisted upside down with just a spotter (no wall). In that singular moment, the fear struck hard. Every fibre of me felt like I was about to fall backward and the spotter wouldn’t be able to catch me. It did not matter if it was irrational. I panic and my legs started to flail around trying to get to ground but couldn’t find anything solid to propel me back.How my flailing legs didn’t kicked anyone, I am not sure!
It was not the technique, strength or flexibility that limited me, it was my fear. There was a part of me that just wanted to leave and say handstand is not for me (flight part). Equally, there was also a stubborn part of me that wanted to prove myself wrong (fight part). I am grateful for the teacher's gentle encouragement that helped me stayed (social engagement systems).
That afternoon, I pulled out every single trick in my psychological arsenal to prepare for day two of the workshop. Imaginal exposure of visualising myself upside down, visualising the spotters catching me as I was about to fall, use cognitive strategies of understanding centre of gravity and body mechanics, and coping statement. Everyone else were learning to do neat tricks on Day Two, and there I was just breathing through being upside down. I am proud to say that I started to slowly convince my body that it was safe and straight (objectively) even though it feels like I am about to fall backwards (subjectively). I am very grateful for the amazing group of arm balancers who encouraged and coached me. Although I have not fully conquered my fear or mastered handstand yet, I am working on it. Next step, kicking up without assistance into balance!
The handstand workshop taught me so much more than just handstand. It’s given me a whole new level of appreciation of the intensity and the irrationality of fear. It is not easy to override survival instinct. I am also humbled by this experience and have an even deeper admiration for the courage of all the people with anxiety who have to experience and work with their fears each day.
Here are some information abut anxiety and strategies to deal with fear on the CCI website. However, know that you don't have to deal with it alone.
Once a fringe topic, mindfulness is now very much part of mainstream culture frequently seen on the media and on the internet. TIME magazine even published a special edition on Mindfulness: The science of health and happiness (September, 2016). One definition of mindfulness is the awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally (Jon Kabat-Zinn). However, it can be confusing with mindfulness being used to describe very different practices.
It is perhaps useful to understand how mindfulness might work. From my perspective, mindfulness is a useful tool for training attention and awareness. In mindfulness of breath practice, we learn to:
The consistent and regular practice then allow us to apply mindfulness in daily life. We can learn to interrupt ruminative thoughts and switch and sustain our attention back to the task at hand or to be fully present and engaging with another person. If you are looking to explore, here are some helpful resources:
One of my favourite practices is Taking in the Good by Dr Rick Hanson. The beauty of this practice is in its simplicity of taking a moment to notice good things even if it is tiny. Often our worries and unhelpful thoughts get a lot of air time, yet we may not even notice the positive. Or we may have even developed the habit of actively discounting and negating the positive unconsciously. This practice starts to retrain our brain to also attend to the good.
Experiment: Taking a moment to notice the good. It can be a moment when someone was kind, when we stood our ground, when we received a compliment, or when we completed something. Savour that experience by focusing on every detail. Allow each detail to be like a drop of water that creates ripple through your body before settling deep in each cell.
Commit to taking in three good things daily for 1 week. What happened?
Notice if it was easy or difficult to find something good? Was it pleasant? Or perhaps it felt uncomfortable to notice that we are enough, we are loved, we are capable? Was there resistance to the exercise? Could we stay with that feeling? Did it become easier?
Collecting drop by drop, we start to notice that we are enough as we are, we are loving, loved and lovable, and we are worthy.
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