Today I spent rather a long time standing on my head along with a load of other people in a large room (I was at an excellent Joey Miles yoga workshop). When on your head, the world can seem a strange place. For example today, as I looked backwards from my upside-down vantange point, it seemed as though everyone in the room was hanging from the ceiling, their legs swaying very gently, as if on a breeze. It was rather disconcerting as, although that’s what my eyes told me, my brain told my eyes not to be so silly; of course they weren’t hanging from the ceiling. But then my eyes became a bit feisty about reinforcing their point and I ended up feeling a bit weirded out about the whole thing – but in a good way. (Being weirded out is usually a positive thing, as it means you’re out of your comfort zone and therefore into your growth zone!)
So, for all that confusion, I absolutely love standing on my head and in fact do it most days for around five minutes as part of my yoga practice. Why? Well, lots of reasons I think, one of which is illustrated by the previous paragraph: I like the way it changes my perspective on the world. Our ‘take’ on the world is, after all, just one perspective. Our minds dictate to us what that perspective is, and this is built up from, amongst other things, all of our past experiences, conditioning, memories and fears. Doing a headstand literally turns a lot of what we think we know upside down – to the point where it wouldn’t seem inconceivable if Lionel Richie cha-cha-cha’d smugly across the ceiling.
But more than that, being upside momentarily shocks the brain into a confused state – for the briefest of moments I feel I have the power to catch it off-guard and say, ‘Hah! You think you know everything, brain, but you’re not feeling so clever now, are you?!” And then, after this initial turbulence, my mind settles into a rare state of calm, as though meekly accepting its fallibility and in fact revelling in the liberation of being absolved of responsibility for my external perspective, at least for this upside-down reprieve. Aaaah, bliss.
It’s a good reminder that we can re-set out perceptions of the world and of ourselves at any point. We often become trapped behind well-trodden negative thought pathways, to the point where we believe them to be immovable and irreversible. But it is possible to change these thoughts to serve us better at any point (see my post Changing the record for more on this).
The tendency is to become what we tell ourselves we are or to see what we tell ourselves exists. For example, if you wake up in a bad mood, feeling negative about people and the world, the chances are you’ll find lots of negative things to corroborate these thoughts – you’ll focus in on the queues, the frowns, the bumps, the loud noises. But for the Pollyanna who woke up smiling and full of the joys of humanity, their day is likely to go much better as they’ll see the same things in a brighter light – e.g. a queue is a chance to chat to a new person, for every frown there’s a smile, an accidental shove from a stranger is no biggie, the birds are singing beautifully – etc.
Often when I introduce a tricky pose into one of my yoga classes I am met with a barrage of negativity, either blatant (e.g. ”No way!” or “Are you crazy, Becky?!”) or expressed slightly more subtley through facial expressions of doubt, fear, uncertainty etc. So, I usually tell my yoga students that, in order to do a tricky pose, the first thing they need to do is to imagine themselves in the pose and believe that this will happen one day, thus creating a positive mental pathway for their thoughts to follow. Then they need to let go of the need to achieve the pose, knowing it will unfold in its own time, and just enjoy the journey. Whether or not those students will ever find themselves in the pose is by-the-by, but the positive, relaxed attitude will make it faaaar more likely, and meawhile their efforts will be more enjoyable than if they approached the same pose with the rigidity of fear and the foregone conclusion that ‘It’ll never happen’. The pose could still be achieved with the more negative attitude, but it would be much more of a slog and much less fun getting there.
So my advice for today is to try turning upside-down and see how topsy-turviness affects your take on life. Full headstands can put quite a lot of strain on the neck if you’re new to them, so best to learn how to do one properly before chucking yourself up into one, but you can still achieve the same effect just by coming onto the top of your head with hands on the floor for support and then sticking your bum in the air – embrace your inner child! You could try having Lionel Richie blaring out loud in the background for motivation…