We finally get to that part of class, the place where my teacher instructs "now take sirsasana," otherwise known as headstand. So I come to all fours, I fold my hands in front of my head, straighten my legs, and start to enter the pose.
Then I start to feel nervous, on edge, and nearly every time that happens, I cannot get into the pose. What is it about something challenging that causes me to back off?
Many of yoga's arm balances and inversions are quite difficult. They require diligence and practice, not just an occasional effort.
For that matter, many things challenge us and call on us to make a decision about whether we should continue or walk away. We're hard wired for survival; dread and fear are built-in mechanisms to tell us something is not quite right. When we don't heed those warnings we can get into trouble.
At the same time, our minds have an uncanny ability to talk us out of a challenge before we have even tried it. We can conjure just about any type of scenario until the mind says: "See what can happen? Don't try that!"
Where is the line between honoring innate fear to protect ourselves and denying our ability to try? How much of a role does ego play?
We seek acceptance from other people. We look for cues regarding how others see us and often form our opinion of ourselves from those cues. We may not feel attractive until someone tells us we are. We may not feel needed until someone asks us for help. We may not feel appreciated until someone says thank you. This is ego. Ego tells us we must have worthiness.
It is in that walk to headstand that my ego begins to communicate. What if I fall? I'll look silly in front of others. What if I can't get my legs in the air? I'll look weak in front of others. Never mind nearly everyone else is thinking the same, ego-driven thoughts.
What if we remove the ego? What if we accept ourselves for who and what we are? What if we love and appreciate our abilities, strive to try new things, step out of our comfort zones and let whatever happens happen?
This is courage. Courage is not born from ego, it ascends from our true nature, our inner spirit, where fear of failure and need for validation do not exist. The place that says "we are the same."
Of course, we often applaud courageous acts, which the ego likes. Ego hungers for attention, approval. Ego hesitates; courage acts.
It is imperative to remember that courage does not require that we go full steam ahead. It is also courageous to walk away, to know the time isn't right and honor truth. Ego would prefer you ignore truth and work only to fill its desires for acceptance and worth. Courage assures you that you are worthy.
Headstand teaches me about myself. It teaches me to recognize that rising, falling and then rising again are part of life's journey. I learn that even if I practice the straightest, most perfect headstand, my ego will still want for more, while my peaceful, inner self will smile knowingly and whisper, "You are already perfect."
(Contact Diana Reed, a yoga teacher and writer, at gayajyotiyoga.com.)
(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.shns.com.)