It’s All About the Core Or: The Freedom to Fly

I was doing yoga for nearly 5 years before I had the courage to even attempt a headstand. I still remember my first wobbly headstand against the library wall at home clearly. I purposely did it at home, because I didn’t want people in the yoga class to see me fail. I recall my fear at doing it, my surprise when I was able to do it and the confidence it gave me afterwards.

For me, it’s a bit of a cliche that Sirsasana is called ‘the King’ of yoga poses … the pose that you absolutely must do if you’re anywhere near serious about yoga. Go into a yoga class and people look at you with something less than respect if you can’t pop a headstand in the middle of the room. Personally, I think Ardho Mukha Svanasna is the ‘king’ of poses,  and -I’ll be honest here- it irks me that those same people can’t hold adho mukha svanasana and just be with it for 2 minutes to save their lives. But then, why do we need ‘king’ or ‘queen’ poses anyway? Which is a whole other post… so I’ll leave it there.

What I am interested in sharing is realisation that I had whilst figuring out my journey through Sirsasana, and whether I could apply the same principles to Adho Mukha Vrksasana (AMV/handstand). (I’m currently playing with AMV in my home practice).

Time to Back Track….

As a child I was told not to do headstands, handstands or anything that involved putting pressure on my neck because I might end up in a wheelchair. Or worse.

Now, I’m sure my mother told me this because she was worried that I might hurt myself. As both my brother and I are adopted, from an early age, I detected a level of protection on behalf of my parents which other children did not experience, and -unfortunately- was at odds with my independent personality. In the end, I just ‘did stuff’ and Mum never knew.

However, that early ‘tape’ about headstands, neck injuries, paraplegia and death was recorded by my brain. It’s still playing, although I’ve taught my brain that, as I have a healthy neck and no other medical contraindications, I am allowed to do headstands.

Fast Forward: 2010, My Bathroom

After I did my first wobbly Sirsasana against the wall at home, and then got up enough courage to go public with it, I spent a lot of time watching, talking and learning. There was something that I learned about Sirsasana which came back to me the other day as I lifted up into AMV -against the wall in my bathroom (was subsequently busted by my son, who asked what on Earth  I was doing!). The secret to headstand wasn’t just the pressing down of the forearms into against the floor, it was THE CORE!

In AMV, it’s all about the core. A strong switched on set of belly muscles meant that I was able to find an amazing sense of ease and balance very quickly, rather than just kicking up and hoping for the best.

Washing in the Rain

Later, as I was running from house to laundry in the middle of the biggest wet (translation: most rain) we’ve had in 8 years, something else occurred to me. Having a strong core is the key to everything. Not just on the yoga mat, but off the yoga mat as well. I’m talking about the metaphoric core here, the metaphoric central foundations, fundamentals, heart, basics of almost anything I do. I can run, because I can walk, I can walk, because I could crawl, I can crawl because I could sit … and so on, right back down to breathing.

So the lesson for me is: don’t be in a hurry to progress (not that I often am these days, when you pass 30, you learn patience), and spend a lot of time strengthening the core, no matter what it is that I’m trying to achieve. Go back to the core and love it very much. Admire it from time to time and just be with it, rather than lifting up into yet another headstand.

In loving the core, the basics, you find the strength and freedom to fly.


5 thoughts on “It’s All About the Core Or: The Freedom to Fly

  1. Excellent clarity on the core. After 2 hours 45 minutes of yoga today, by a teacher for whom I abandoned all other teachers and studios, you will find it interesting that her whole theory is “Core is all you need!” We do killer abs, yoga style I suppose, in every class, and I believe with all my heart that my practice is starting to look right for the first time because of that core. :)!

  2. Well said. I firmly believe a strong core is the key to everything, on the mat and off. Working on finding confidence in sirsasana these days, and I’m learning it’s all in the bandhas, all in the stability of the core.

    I had the same persistent aversion to headstand you describe. I put off trying it for three years, thinking there was no way my head and neck could support my body. Perhaps my mother fed me similar cautious lines when I was young…

  3. I started out a bit too fearless in hurrying to progress with headstands. Thus, as I told a teacher recently, “my body no longer needs the wall, by my mind does.” The memory of falling over backwards on a hardwood floor is still just a bit too strong.

  4. @Farnoosh – Thanks for the comment. I’ve been a bit slack this week with comments and return trips to other blogs, so I’ll be returning the favour 🙂

    @Misanthro (he he he! Describes me) I know. I’m still cautious with the headstand. I used to have horses and was bucked off or fell off all the time. Way more dangerous than yoga – but my parents never tried to stop me riding. Crazy… I haven’t been the same with my children in the overprotection stakes.

    @Dr Jay I’m really comforted to hear that other yogis have had the same experience with headstand. Maybe the ‘King’ of poses thing is all in my head. Personally, I’d still rather chill out in Down Dog. Besides, then Chloe (one of my dogs) doesn’t lick my face when I’m upsidedown…

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