NotSoZen YogaJen

After 12 Years of Yoga, I Did My First Headstand

Posted on: September 12, 2010

After having practiced yoga for over 12 years, this past Friday night I had a yogic breakthrough and got up into headstand without using the wall for the very first time.

To backtrack, for the first three years that I practiced yoga, I didn’t go to classes where headstand was taught.  I did yoga at the gym, and as a warm-up in the Modern Dance class I took in acting school, and there was not a headstand in sight.  And then, in 2001, I started going to yoga studios and headstands began popping up in classes.  But I heard someone say once that it took them five years to do headstand, so I totally let myself off the hook and figured I had some time.  And one day I was able to get up into headstand against the wall, and that felt good, so I hung out with that for a few years and thought that eventually I would be able to do it without the wall, and it would just kind of maybe happen on its own.

Then another five years went by, and I co-taught a workshop called Releasing Obstacles with yoga teacher Robin Pickering.  By this time I realized that I had a fear of going upside down without the wall nearby.  And that headstand wasn’t just going to happen for me if I never tried.  But since I was teaching the writing portion of this workshop, I figured I should suck it up and try to release an obstacle of my own.  So, in the middle of the room, without a wall, I came up into a headstand curl, which was my name for the pre-headstand egg shape, where you are balanced on your head and your legs are in the air with your knees tucked into your chest.  And I surprised myself by hanging out there, in that balance for the first time, without rolling over backwards or being afraid that I was going to roll over and therefore coming back down.  I just balanced.  Wiggling my toes.

And I figured, at that point, that my headstand was just around the corner.  After all, I had done the hard part of balancing on my head, and all I had left to do now was straighten my legs up and Ta Da!  There I’d be.

That was in 2006.  And my headstand did not follow shortly after that experience.  In fact, my fear got the best of me, and I lost my ability to even balance in that headstand curl without the wall.  I got to the point where I can stay up in headstand without leaning on the wall, but I need the wall to get up into it in the first place.

This Friday night in yoga class, the teacher had us go to the wall for headstand.  And I’d had a rough week, and kind of a crappy day, and something in me decided to move a little farther from the wall than usual, so that it would be there if I fell, but I wouldn’t necessarily have to rely on it on my way up.  And somehow, those extra inches made a difference, and I came up into the headstand curl without poising my big toe on the wall for support, and I hung out balancing in that little egg shape.  And then…I straightened my legs.  And I was up!  And staying up!  On my own!  The teacher then said we could come down and try it again, but I didn’t want to try again.  Because what if it was just a fluke that I couldn’t repeat?  But again, after a bad week, I felt like, what do I have to lose?  So I tried again, and I did it again!

After class, I told the teacher about my headstand breakthrough, and she said that clearly I am strong enough to do headstand physically, and that the barrier was a mental one.  I also used to be able to do Crow Pose seven years ago but I lost it, which is another example of having the physical ability to do something, but also having a mental block to it that overrides the physical ability.

And while it’s cool to say, “I can do headstand, yipppppeeeeee!” it’s not totally about adding another notch to my yoga repertoire.  For me it’s about the mental part, about overcoming fear, and how yoga helps me do that.  When I first started practicing yoga, I wasn’t very flexible or strong so there was a lot I couldn’t do.  But pretty quickly I started busting through barriers left and right and doing all these things I thought I couldn’t:  Coming up in forearm stand and handstand against the wall!  Balancing in Ardha Chandrasana!  Walking my hands up and down the wall into and out of Wheel Pose!  And I would get a rush each time, that I reprogrammed some limitation in my brain, and now it was a new ability, a new possibility.

But that rush hasn’t happened in years.  I hit a yogic plateau, and there were the things I could do and the things I couldn’t and they pretty much stayed the same.  I stayed the same, and kind of complacent with my yoga repertoire, and didn’t push myself out of my comfort zone to try anything new anymore.  Until Friday night.  And after a rough week and a crappy day of feeling pretty disempowered in my life, I remembered that yoga has the ability to remind you of your own inner power, to remind you that even when you think, I can’t.  There’s NO WAY! that quite often, YOU CAN.

My teacher and I were chatting about how it took me 12 years of yoga to do my first headstand, and she joked that it’s not like I don’t do yoga that much.  At this point I go to class five – six times a week, and though I haven’t always practiced that frequently, throughout the entire 12 years I have had a very consistent yoga practice.  So it’s not like it took me 12 years but I go to class once a year.  It took me 12 years and I go to class almost everyday.

And this made me think about patience, because man, that is some serious patience.  And I’m not known to have patience in all areas of my life like that.  I can be pretty impatient about how things aren’t progressing fast enough for me.  But this is another lesson I learn from yoga.  I am not particularly goal-oriented in my yoga practice as you can see, and I don’t think I have to master a pose in a certain about of time, nor do I think I suck if I can’t do certain poses.  I practice yoga mostly for the experience of it, and how it makes me feel, and the many benefits I get from going to a class, no matter what poses I can or can’t do that day.  So while, in most areas of my life, it is difficult for me to grasp the it’s the journey not the destination concept, in yoga, I get it.

This whole experience reawakened me to what it feels like to break through a limitation, and makes me excited to be un-complacent and un-plateau-y in my yoga practice again, and without pushing or striving, just be open to and aware of what other limitations I can break through, what other places I can turn a NO WAY! into an I CAN.  Maybe Crow Pose is up next.  And maybe after that, I can take it off the mat and into the rest of my life.

Tell me about your yoga breakthroughs!  How has yoga helped you overcome obstacles in your life and increase your belief in yourself and your sense of what’s possible?

8 Responses to "After 12 Years of Yoga, I Did My First Headstand"


Thanks Jen!

Thank you for sharing this. My practice lately has been all about re-evaluating self-imposed limitations. And as one of my teachers used to say, all limitations are self-imposed. So I’m looking at all the asanas I just skunk because I assumed, some vague time ago, that I couldn’t. And maybe I couldn’t then, but yes, you’re right, we can get complacent, and asleep to the fact that a little bit of effort, and a little bit of grace (like a rotten week!) can leave us in a whole different place. Headstand was an early one for me. I spent 9 months in fear, against the wall. Now I love to hang out there for 100 breaths, interrupted only by lowering my legs to horizontal a few times (another one I thought I assumed I couldn’t do). Garbha Pindasana. Bound Lotus. It’s a long list. And a wonderful relief to find that – surprise – I’m no longer in the place where I was when I couldn’t. What a wonderful lesson.

So awesome Fran, thanks for sharing your experiences! I look forward to re-evalutating my self-imposed limitations as well. Thanks also for your list of yoga breakthroughs, it provides inspiration for ideas of poses I can think about trying next…

Deev! I love egg shape too 🙂
And I totally appreciate having read this right before going into YTT.
Thanks for sharing your experience, I love it and I love you!

Jen thanks for this post!!! I loved it so much, and it’s getting me excited to get back my own yoga practice….and my fears not around headstand, but handstand – I won’t even try that one!

@DEEV Thank you! Hope you are enjoying your yoga teacher training, and see you in egg shape! 🙂

@Joanna YAY! So happy to hear you are getting back to your yoga practice! Here’s to overcoming inversion fears!


This is the best motivating, no, exhilarating fitness-related post I have ever read. Thank you

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