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Weaning myself off

Publication Date : 24-08-2014


The wall is my crutch. Solid, safe and always there. That block of stability is what I rely on when I begin to waver. A firm hold that’ll prevent me from falling over.

Each one of us hangs on to our crutch, a safety net that’ll help break our fall: a steaming plate of luscious nasi lemak at a late-night stall after a long week at work; a lover we stay with long after unresolved issues plague the relationship.

Or the other, more current, crutch – the online version where the number of likes garnered by a picture or post gauges popularity.

My wall is a concrete one, in front of which I practise my headstands. Rather diligently, especially after I read that a 3-minute headstand every day is the best facial any woman could hope for.

I never thought I could do a headstand. Early this year, to my surprise, after weeks of failed attempts, I was able to stand on my head, albeit with the wall supporting my feet.

My fear of executing this yoga pose was reduced at every attempt with this wall as a reassuring refuge.

Yet it took months of practice. On the mat, I’d get into position; shoulders on steady elbows, forearms firm, top of the head on the floor and interlocked palms cupping the back of the head. The rest of the body learned to rearrange itself accordingly.

I walked my feet closer to my face as my back lifted and straightened out. Then one leg came up, after which I’d swing the other up too ... and I’d exhale as both heels found my wall.

With each consecutive attempt I found myself flush-faced, basking in the pure thrill of being upside down. It’s like being airborne, while the body rests on the top of the head. The view of the world changes. And not just literally.

At home, photographs and paintings are viewed from the bottom up. Outdoors, by the beach, sand and sea shimmer at eye level. Even the canopy of leaves on the treetops offers another perspective.

At beginner’s level, achieving the Salamba Sirsasana, the supported headstand, takes much effort. Besides realigning the body, fear must be defeated.

BKS Iyengar, the famed yogi who passed away last week at 96, described, in The Illustrated Light On Yoga, how mastery of this pose brings balance and poise, both mentally and physically. He advises beginners to practise against the wall, but to wean themselves off it as soon as possible.

Iyengar states in the headstand section of the book, “The best way to overcome fear is to face with equanimity the situation of which one is afraid.”

As one of the most prominent yoga asanas (positions or poses), the headstand ensures healthy, pure blood flow through the brain cells, rejuvenating them to greater thinking power and clearer thoughts. The author adds that regular practice develops the body, disciplines the mind and widens the horizons of the spirit.

The headstand is proof of “practice makes perfect” and the willingness to try something, even if it means turning your world upside down.

In an article in, another writer states succinctly, “What makes Sirsasana yoga is an exquisite attention to balance and alignment, an inward movement of awareness that heightens your sensitivity and stability, and an increased willingness to be in the moment. Where you are is where you are.”

Taking all this into account, I have day by day begun to lift my feet away from the wall for a few seconds at a time.

While my body struggles to find its balance, I have never felt anything lighter than being in that moment – the very few seconds (for now) when I actually stand on my own – on my head. The attempts to wean myself off the wall have been more revealing than the action it requires. I was feeling rather proud of myself.

That was until I read another yoga blog (yes, I read too many of them), written by a practitioner who recently posted about his experience in the Iyengar Yoga Institute in Pune, Maharashtra, India. In his observations he wrote about the master’s granddaughter, also a teacher, who shared an anecdote with her class.

She emphasised the importance of doing the Sirsasana with sensitivity. She told her class eight years ago that she aimed to hold the pose for more than 20 minutes despite the many distractions and pain.

Having forced herself to complete her task, she proudly announced her triumph to her grandfather. He, apparently, was more interested to know what she did in the pose. When she answered, “Nothing,” he told her that she had wasted her time.

Just when you think you have overcome obstacles and achieved some small success, something more is just waiting around the corner. I thought my 3-minutes-working-towards-5-minutes hold and the fact that I could stay away from the wall for a few seconds was a great achievement.

While weaning oneself off a wall may be liberating, it’s good to remember that not far away lies the next wall.


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