That First Downward Dog

You know how it is, that first downward facing dog of a yoga class. You feel as if you’ve never done this before, you’ve never stretched your legs out long behind you, moved your hips up toward the ceiling, extended long through your arms, softened in the center of your back. Instead, everything is stiff and rickety, creaky and unyielding. You doubt yourself. Why am I doing this? I can’t do this!

That’s a bit how this blog feels, as I begin. I’ve written things, sure, even tiny baby-steps of other blogs, but this effort feels new and unfamiliar, which is at once part of both the allure and the terror. But as I am drawn to the mat, so am I drawn to the the written word in all forms: books, journals, a blank screen.  And today, I begin in earnest.

It’s not January 1st, or some other day for an auspicious beginning. I’m late or I’m early, but I’m here now. And what I want to talk about isn’t really about that elusive Adho Mukha Vrksasana, but about what handstand represents to me. Now, mind you, I can kick up into a handstand with a minimal amount of help, either against a wall or in the middle of the room. With help. But although I’ve tried for several years (and I am not kidding), I still can’t spring up unaided. Initially, I had a fear of getting upside down, then after a time came the fear that I would never be able to do this pose.  This blessed pose! I should be able to do this by now! But today, I know that it will come in its own time, and my quest is just to keep working on this asana, because the effort itself is worth it. So my teacher tells me, and she is rarely wrong about such things.

And oh, the joy of being upside down, when you let go just for a moment, and allow disorientation to take over, and then you move into a place of pure focus as you extend out through your legs and make them long, you work your feet strongly, but you also extend out down from your pelvis through your hands, and out through the earth. And you hug in to your core, sure, but you also radiate organic energy, you extend out in all directions. When I’m upside down, in the moment, I’m not thinking about what I can’t do, that I needed help to achieve inversion, that many beginners – who don’t even know the invocation for goodness’ sake – can do this pose with ease. I’m not thinking any of those things. I’m just upside down, and fully present.

That’s what I want to do in this life and in this blog, to keep extending out in all directions, to keep moving, to keep exploring. Eleanor Roosevelt famously said, “You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”  That’s the practice, as they say, so here we go.

Here’s an Irish girl blessing for you today:

May you extend out in all directions this day, as you seek to do the thing that you both fear and desire.