Topsy-Turvy Yoga: My Journey Upside Down
I’d never been one for turning upside down. In my many years of dance, I’d avoided the balances, inversions and walkovers that pervaded acrobatics. I stuck to what I knew I could do best and where I felt safest—where my feet were in control. I loved the detail and perfection I could pursue through ballet and classical dance forms. Perfection could easily have been my middle name, although, like most of us, I was anything but that. I liked to be in my comfort zone, knowing and trusting in the certainty of things.
Fast forward several years and you’ll find me tentatively experimenting with inversions, usually against a door or a wall or with another pair of hands for support. Handstands, headstands, shoulder stands (gotta love ‘em), and my personal favourites: forearm stand and wild thing. I’m far from perfect at any of them—my wrists hurt after a few goes, my core is wobbly, my back likes to arch, and my arm strength is virtually non-existent. But, that is of relatively little importance. That I’m gradually learning to let go, to jump outside my comfort zone and toss myself (well, not quite) upside down is of the most importance.
I began that part of my journey in January of this year, signing up for an intermediate/advanced class. I freaked out a little. Had I lost my mind? Me?! Going into handstand? I’ve only been doing yoga for a year. I’ll never manage that. And, did I even want to?
The answer to that last question came directly from the most broken place of me, my heart: yes, it said. At this point, my whole world had already been chucked flip side over, and I would now physically reflect that. I needed to experience something out of my ‘norm,’ something that might give ease or strength or fresh perspective to the strange world I now found myself in.
Five months prior, in July 2015, my mum had died. A year-long struggle with a vicious form of lung cancer, a sudden downward turn in May and then, bam, she was gone. I’d not had time to process her initial diagnosis, let alone all the stages in between and then her death. I’d been there the day she passed, reading to her, listening to her shallow breaths, and in a fleeting moment, which seemed simultaneously nothing and an eternity, she gasped her last breath. In an instant I’d lost not only my mother, but my best person, my guide and my soulmate. In an instant, my life had changed irrevocably, unimaginably, and I’d been borne into a new, bizarre, unfamiliar, dream-like world which made not one grain of sense to me. Everything was upside down.
Yoga kept me going, combined with long distance running, trips away and my closest friends (and dare I say it, copious amounts of Gossip Girl). I urged myself to practice with videos and eventually to go to classes again. I searched for books, followed yogis on Instagram (yes, I’m one of those) and immersed myself in the physical practice whilst drawing on its healing abilities, too. It had, of course, been my mum who’d suggested I try a class the previous year—how could she have known what it would do for me? But, then, she knew me better than I knew myself.
It became a daily practice—often just 10 minutes, sometimes an hour or two. Some days it wasn’t just yoga, I’d freestyle dance, shove my pointe shoes on, pelt out cardio or read poetry on my mat. Other days I’d just cry. Most days. I don’t remember a day when I haven’t. I took yoga up in all manner of shapes and forms—Hatha, Power, Yin, Vinyasa Flow, Yogic Arts. Steady, restorative, fiery and energetic—my body, soul, mind and heart needed it all. It soaked in and allowed me to breathe through the pain, the crushed heart, and the enduring void inside of me. Yoga began to give me a way to navigate and exist in this strange, new world.
And so I started turning upside down. I no longer freak. Rather, I relish it. It makes me feel that even through the hurt and the longing, I can embrace and explore this other world and make my own space in it. It’s not about the photos (although, sometimes they are a little pretty) it’s about the way I feel as I flip, the way I grow stronger, the way I grasp and confront the unfamiliar, the way it connects with me. Yoga has taught me the one crucial thing: that wherever I am in life, it is okay and I am enough. It’s one hell of a journey.