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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

We have nothing to fear but fear itself

I have been having a hell of a time with Pincha Mayurasana. For the record, I love arm balances. My extreme lack of hip flexibility causes me to love pretty much anything that makes me feel like I have accomplished something yet does not require my legs to be splayed out everywhere. Obviously this is something I'm working on, since the whole point of yoga is to work through difficult situations, but sometimes it's fun to hang out in a figure 4 arm balance or eight-angles pose after struggling through a weak, sad version of wide-legged seated forward bend.

Pincha, however, had me stumped. Handstand against the wall - not a problem. Headstand or tripod headstand anywhere - not a problem. But every time I tried to kick up into forearm stand, fear of falling kicked in, my shoulders collapsed and my head usually ended up bumping unceremoniously into the ground, resulting in an awkward flailing headstand sort of situation, which is obviously not what I was going for. I should probably mention that the alignment for f0rearm stand is much, much harder than headstand or handstand. It takes a lot of concentration to keep melting your heart and plugging your shoulders in, because the position of your arms makes them want to round forward. If you are instead focusing on being scared of falling, you're pretty much screwed.

Anyways, last weekend my dad had hip replacement surgery. He's been putting off doing this pretty much forever, despite the fact that he has had painful osteoarthritis for about 12 years and his surgeon did not understand how he was continuing to function. Yes - he continued trucking around, going to work, going to the gym (low-impact activities like biking and weight lifting only), and generally living life despite immense pain and inch-long bone spurs, mostly because, I think, he was afraid, he recognized the inherent risk that comes with any major surgery - you might not make it out the other side.

My dad is an extremely stubborn guy (obviously), and would say he was just waiting for the right time, but really there is no "right time" to have your leg essentially taken off and put back on again - the technology will always be a little better next year. This summer, he finally decided to go for it - I think it was a combination of wanting to be able to walk me down the aisle without pain, wanting to jog with my sister during her final college track season, and just being ready. I hung out with him the night before he went to the hospital and watched a couple of episodes of 30 Rock and The Office. The morning of the surgery, he texted me and my sister to tell us he loved us - and I realized that, as morbid as this sounds, he had made peace with the possibility that he might not be around tomorrow. I know, hip replacements are pretty routine and the risk is extremely low, but in order to make himself OK with going through with it, my dad had to first overcome his fear of the worst possible outcome, which is pretty amazing.

A couple days later I went to visit him in the hospital, where he was already back to his old self by making his PT into a contest and concentrating on beating all of the other recovering patients on the "feet walked" chart in the hall. Welcome to my family. Every other sentence he said was "I can't believe I did it. I can't believe it's over." Part of the practice of yoga is letting go of attachment, including your attachment to your body and the phyiscal world, and making peace with death. My dad had become a yogi without ever practicing a single asana.

When I got home, I decided that if my dad could overcome that much, I could certainly learn to not be afraid of banging my head on the ground in Pincha, so I rolled out my yoga mat next to the wall. "Hey there mat," I said. "My head might bang into you but I think that is OK." I placed my forearms on the ground in modified down dog, walked my feet in, willed my shoulders to stay in place, told myself I didn't care if I fell, lifted one leg and kicked up. A second later, my feet landed against the wall, and my head did not land on the ground! I stayed there for a few seconds, testing my balance, then brought my feet back to the ground, rolled up my mat and put it away, and made some cookies for my dad.

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