I’ll tell you want I wanted to write about today. I wanted to write a simple, almost inspirational account of how I decided to take a private yoga lesson to overcome my fear of some of the postures — namely headstand and handstand and a few other variations that involve going upside-down.
The whole thing was going to be simple and semi-inspirational because, of course, I would take the lesson over the weekend and make tremendous progress. I would see that I could overcome my fears with a little daring and hard work. I’d glimpse triumph in the distance.
Nice idea, but it didn’t work out like that. Instead, I tried a headstand with the teacher’s assistance. It hurt my head. I recalled what my friend Janis said about all the middle-aged injuries she’d read about owing to headstands. Injuries that involved your neck, your head, your back — none of the more optional parts of your body you can do without. I came softly crashing down onto the floor, again with the teacher’s help.
“Were you scared that time?” she asked.
“Completely panicked,” I said.
“It goes away eventually,” she said, looking doubtful.
So we tried a headstand with my head in between two chairs, which has the advantage of not squashing your head under the weight of your body. I did wonder about the odds of decapitation, though, if the chairs slipped. I stayed upside-down, then gracelessly made my way back to earth, with my feet thundering onto the floor.
“Why don’t we talk about more lessons another time?” I said to the teacher.
I went home with a sore neck and damaged self-esteem. I hate it when I can’t get the narrative I want out of my life — the common, soul-stirring narrative of accomplishment and overcoming adversity.
When I was younger, and more of a prisoner of how things should be, it was more of a problem. “Every day, do something you’re scared of” — I think it was Eleanor Roosevelt who said that. God, just what I needed: something else I didn’t want to do on my lengthy to-do list.
The years pass, though, and you begin to realize you’re not going to climb one of the Himalayas or jump out of an airplane or walk a tightrope or go on a safari. You realize, too (if you’re the hypersensitive, skittish type like me) that this is just fine, because you find normal life — without the mountains, the parachutes, the balancing act, the wild animals that want to eat you — is stimlulating and risky enough already. Maybe a little too stimulating and risky, which is why Valium was invented.
At times like this, over and over, I start to mull over the Serenity Prayer — about changing what you can change, accepting what you can’t, and the wisdom to know the difference. Maybe, when you’re younger, you’re more intent on the first part of that prayer, sure you must change yourself, that change is always desirable, that every flaw and shortcoming you have can be addressed and cured.
Even more years pass and your emphasis changes. Maybe, it occurs to you, your essence lies in your shortcomings, as well as in your strengths. Maybe, in combination, they define you — deeply flawed, but whole and real.
Oh, to hell with headstands. I’m going to keep my feet on the ground.
(Copyright 2009 by Ruth Pennebaker)