Leaning into the fear
I've been struggling with my Śīrṣāsana - headstand - ever since I first started doing it four and a half months ago. And it's an interesting challenge.
In the begining, I had no idea what I was doing, so I'd just throw myself into it. And I would fall. And get back up. And fall again. And get back up. And fall again. I wasn't liking it, but it was okay.
Then I learned a trick. Instead of throwing my legs up and hoping to catch some sort of balance at the top, I'd go up with bent knees, find balance, then slowly stretch. Much better. Now I had control, and I quickly learned not to fall.
But the thing is, now I started to get scared of falling. Falling forward is no problem. You just land on your feet, no harm done. But falling backwards is really really scary, at least to me. You can't see what's behind you, maybe you'll hit something, you can't bend your legs that way, so you risk just falling flat, all 186 centimeters. In practice what I do is I round my back and curl up, and it doesn't really hurt. But boy, there's something truly scary about it.
So what I do instead is I overcompensate the other way. I lean slightly forward, and spend ginormous amounts of muscle power holding me in that position, so when the teacher has counted to 15 (and he counts slooooowly), and we're supposed to go into a half-bend, I'm completely exhausted, and my feet just drop to the floor.
And that's the thing. When you're scared of going over the edge, the only solution is to keep well within the edge, and that has a lot of cost associated with it. You're wasting energy, you're slowing yourself down. The optimal place to be is right at the edge, and you can't find the edge and stay on the edge if you're not willing to go over the edge.
Two days ago, I managed to stay at the edge for a few breaths, and it was exhilarating. I was elated, happy to have finally found it, but without realizing it, I'd slipped back into safe territory and wasted effort.
This morning I was determined to give it another go. I managed to stay at the edge for much longer. I noticed myself slipping away from the edge, and I forced myself back to the edge. And I noticed something. While there was a tremendous sense of liberty at the edge, a feeling of peace, calm, space, I could just relax there and spend very little effort, I could practically stay there forever - at the same time I was frightened. Afraid I was going to get tired and fall. A lack of faith in my own abilities to stay there. The temptation to back off from the edge was immense. It's a struggle, but at least it's not scary.
It was very enlightening for me. Being able to sustain that feeling of fear is the key to conquering Śīrṣāsana for me. And I suspect it's the key to conquering so many other aspects of my life as well.