Several years ago I had decided to enroll in an intensive Iyengar Yoga class. Iyengar Yoga places a very strong emphasis on proper body alignment and positioning from the exact placement of the head and focus point of the eyes (also called drishti) all the way down to the pinky toe. I had maintained a fairly regular, almost daily, yoga practice over the previous year, but I wanted to study the Asanas, or posture, practice in greater depth. There were also many poses I wanted to improve upon, and due to several foot and ankle injuries from years of competitive running, I felt my balancing strength could also greatly improve. Adding four more classes per week would also challenge my self-discipline and endurance. Most importantly, or should I say most bravely, I wanted to tackle the inverted poses head-on. Little did I know that it would also turn my mind upside-down!
The military-like style of my Iyengar instructor was almost frightening at first, but it sure made me strive to become aware of every little muscle fiber that could be in better alignment. As each day and week went by, the instructor would have us go into headstand (shirshasana), handstand (adho mukha vrikshasana), forearm stand (pincha mayurasana), scorpion pose (vrishchikasana), and shoulder stand (sarvangasana) more and more often and hold them for longer periods of time. He’d even time us with a stopwatch! But as each day and week went by, I felt more self-confident with what my body could do, and I became ever more aware that the boundaries of my body’s capabilities were much further than I had thought.
I remember how I’d wake up every Friday morning with sore shoulders and say to myself, “I just don’t think I can do one more inversion. Not even for a second!” Somehow though, each and every time, I’d rise up into handstand with ease, surprised at what my body was able to do that my mind thought it couldn’t do. By the end of my three-month yoga intensive, I had met my goal. My Asana practice had improved dramatically, and I felt stronger than ever. I had also overcome my fear of coming crashing down while attempting the inversions. But, the most profound thing I learned was that we are capable of more than we think, whether that’s physically, emotionally, or mentally, when we set aside the worry and doubts of the mind and turn it all upside-down.