How to Get Over Your Fear of Inversions
You can be a great yogi and still feel scared to death about doing a headstand. Here’s how to go for it.
By Kathryn Budig
If you hear the term ‘advanced yoga,’ you probably picture insanely deep backbends and gravity-defying postures. We live in the age of Instagram and Pinterest, and it seems like everybody and their mom can bust out a one-armed handstand. These prevalent and mind-blowing images can have two effects on people: sheer inspiration or sheer disappointment. Fall into the disappointment category that fears the inversion? You are not alone.
Challenging poses like inversions can be terrifying. They take you about as far as you can get from your daily routine. You are literally and figuratively flipping yourself and perspective upside down. It’s an opportunity to see the world through a new lens—one with limitless potential, or one that makes you feel like you’re teetering on the edge of a cliff.
So what is it that makes these poses so scary? Is there a way to move past our fears so we can balance and float with grace? Let’s take a look at some of the reasons that the idea of inverting makes us shake in our moon boots.
Please keep in mind that inversions should be practiced under the guidance of a senior teacher. Do your best to get into a studio to have these poses properly taught to you to keep you safe. These poses are not advised for people with high blood pressure, vertigo, shoulder injuries, or those who are pregnant.
Fear of Embarrassment
Let’s face it: Nobody likes to be embarrassed. I learned this firsthand many moons ago during my teacher training. We were a group of nearly 40, and we were focusing on the inversion section of the training. It was time to kick up into handstand at the walls, so off we went to our own sections, and everyone kicked up. Everyone, that is, except for me. I didn’t know how. I kicked and flailed. I became more and more desperate as a room full of eyes watched me fail on repeat. One of my teachers walked over, slid in behind me, and gingerly helped me up into the pose. I held it with his support and them came out sobbing. I was humiliated. My teacher simply stated, “You have all the physical strength needed to do this pose. It will only happen when you’re ready here,” as he tapped a finger on my head. That simple lesson constantly reminds me to let go of embarrassment and attachment and just practice. Maybe you’ll kick up or maybe you won’t. It’s about the attitude, not the results.
I know so many people who don’t practice yoga at a studio because they don’t want to be embarrassed by their practice in front of other people. It’s completely common to feel anxiety about doing yoga around others, but it’s especially terrifying to try something huge and then crash and burn. When you kick up into an inversion, you’re risking the chance of taking out the person in front of you or being that ton of bricks that comes crashing down. The last thing you want is to feel like a roomful of eyes is on you as you try to collect yourself from the ground. So how do you tackle this fear?
For starters, know that nobody is looking at you. Seriously. People are all too concerned with their own practice to worry about yours. No one wants to see someone wipe out in the yoga room—you have to remember it’s actually a room full of cheerleaders. It’s not uncommon for people to burst into applause when a student finally gets a pose he or she has been working on. The beauty of practicing in a group environment is that you have a team to support you. Your teammates don’t expect you to wow with your first attempt or 108th. It’s a process that you all work on together. It might help you move past your fears to see other people struggling with inversions, as well—just remember the goal isn’t to perfect the posture, it’s to experience it and learn from it.
Fear of Hurting Yourself
This one is huge. So many people fear poses like handstands because they’re afraid their arms will buckle and they’ll end up with a concussion, or they’ll over-kick and fall over into a premature and unintended savasana. Needless to say, there is potential to get hurt when you don’t know what you’re doing. The best way to get past this fear is to work with a senior teacher who can help you understand proper alignment.
A few quick pointers:
Have a fear of your arms buckling? Use a yoga strap. Make a lasso that measures shoulder head to shoulder head, and slip it around your arms, landing directly above your elbows. This lasso will gently hug your arms, preventing any buckling. It also trains you to firm your upper-outer arms, which will keep you out of your neck and in connection with the rest of your body.
Have a fear of falling over and hurting yourself? Practice at the wall! I always start my students at the wall and gradually give them the physical and emotional tools they’ll need to transfer into the middle of the room. I spent years practicing at the wall—no shame! Don’t judge yourself by being here; just use it as a stepping stone to feeling empowered in your inversion practice. Eventually, take small steps away from the wall so that you get more airtime as you kick up, and with time you won’t touch the wall at all.
Constantly feel like your back bananas and makes you want to flip over? Time to corset your ribs. Imagine you have an actual corset around your ribcage and that your bones are made out of ribbons. ‘Tie’ the ribbons together to create a closing action. This softens your front ribs and lengthens out your lower back (where most people are overly flexible, causing them to backbend even when they don’t want to). You’ll feel your core engage, which will help stabilize you when you’re upside down.
Fear of Failure
Yoga attracts many type-A and overachieving personalities. They want to do the postures and do them perfectly. Of course, not all poses are created equal, and balancing on your hands, forearms, or head isn’t the simplest of tasks. Students will see these seemingly impossible poses and immediately remark, ‘I can’t do that.’ Telling yourself you can’t immediately kills any glimmer of potential to learn or grow. Will you fail as you try new postures? You better believe it! You’ll fail many times, but that’s also how we learn to be good at something. You may not even be able to kick up against the wall for months! Does that mean you should give up? No, it means you’re on the road to learning something that is outside of your comfort zone. It’s an opportunity to see how your hard work pays off when you’re unattached to the outcome and simply show up regularly and do your best. Don’t let the fear of failure prevent you from going upside down.