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Learning to Fall

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One of the first times I ever attempted handstand unassisted I fell flat on my back on a concrete slab. I never did it again.

The problem isn’t so much that I physically can’t achieve the heels over head posture. It’s that I mentally block the option with a fear of falling. Give me a wall and I’ll kick up into a strong stable handstand all day but remove the support and I won’t even try.

I’ve always wanted to be able to do handstand. It’s just one of those things yogis yearn for, I guess. I’ve gone to workshops and watched video tutorials. I record myself to see where my alignment is off. But what occurred to me recently is I don’t need lessons in handstand. I need lessons in falling.

There’s an art to losing control. A certain grace in coming undone. Handstand itself is one of the more graceful human postures, I think. Just this incredible strength in stillness. For a frenetic type, sometimes nothing is more terrifying than stillness. Nothing more deafening than silence. Handstand offers this eerie weightless unnatural calm, but getting there requires the even more terrifying prospect of falling more than just a few times. It’s that falling without falling apart that is the true acquired skill.

Handstand takes a lot–strength, alignment, breath. But most of all it takes trust. Trust in your own strength, yes, but also trust that your weaknesses will not kill you. That’s the secret sauce: convincing yourself you will not die. Once you get past that it just takes forcing yourself into the second worst case scenario (first would be dying) a few times to realize you’re ok. It seems so silly and simple, but it’s a revolutionary breakthrough when you really do it.

It’s like this in life and work and love, too. How many of the really big scary awesome things do we not do because we might mess up, get hurt, fall flat on our backs? Think about that one big thing you want to do and why you don’t. Is it because you physically (financially, emotionally, whatever) can’t? Or is it because you put up a mental block–your own safety wall–that cages you in more than it comforts you?

I find that I often live and work and love in a safe zone–the life equivalent of kicking up against a wall–because it makes me feel secure and because I fear the second worst case scenario. This is so boring. The best lessons in my life have come not from succeeding but from messing up really badly, realizing I didn’t die, and then moving on a little stronger, braver, wiser than I was before.

If the second worst case scenario at work is getting fired, you need to get fired. If the second worst case scenario in love is heartbreak, you need to break your heart. If the second worst case scenario in handstand is falling, you need to fall. Once you find that these things aren’t the end of your world, you’ll start to operate beyond the confines of your fears. This is a cool thing.

Because as it turns out, learning to fall gracefully gives you superhuman strength. After hitting rock bottom enough times and living to tell the tale, you eventually develop this wonderful audacity to attempt the impossible. I’ve always told my yoga classes your mat is a launching pad not a crash pad. Every time you hit it you will get back up and go further.

So step away from the wall. Fall down. Get back up. Repeat. Repeat until you do what you feared you couldn’t.

Earlier this week I felt the urge to remove my handstand wall. I don’t know why. It just seemed like the time. I drove out to the park, laid out my mat in the middle of a circle of grass and let myself fall flat on my back. It was hands down my most productive handstand lesson. Pun intended.

14 Comments

  1. positivelydreadful positivelydreadful

    I think this post is very well said and it really resonates with my life right now. I’m in the midst of planning a cross country move and its scary but I’m starting to realize that anything worth doing is supposed to scare us a little. Here’s to facing our fears! Have a lovely day 🙂

    • Katie Katie

      Awesome! Good luck with your move. It’ll be worth it. 🙂

  2. Sandra Sandra

    Have read your blog for years but it’s my first time commenting. Thank you for this. This really resonated with me today as I am going through a season of change in my life.

    • Katie Katie

      Thanks for sticking with me for years and for commenting yesterday, Sandra. I wish you the very best as you move through whatever your change is. I guess my only sweeping advice would be to let it be worth it. If it’s big and different, don’t get in your own way fretting about the scary or unpleasant parts. Let it be worth that struggle and then let it be really, really good. – Katie

  3. Jon Jon

    Reminds me of a quote from a book by Straub: “It’ll be broken, all right. But you’ll never get anything done if you walk around with an unchipped heart. That’s the way of it, boy.”

    • Katie Katie

      I like that, thanks!

  4. My sister just told me last night, “we would never accomplish anything if we never tried the things we’re scared.” It’s so true.

  5. Emma Emma

    Well played on that pun. Also, your words touch my <3. Thank you.

    • Katie Katie

      <3

  6. Melissa a Melissa a

    hi, local charlotte reader here. Thanks for the post- a lot of truth and depth. I’m in the process of falling now and not doing it gracefully. So it’s nice to keep it ind that it gets easier and that is how you build strength. …. Just another confirmation to pick up yoga. Do you still teach..,? Where?

    • Katie Katie

      Hey Melissa! I’m not teaching any more but I do still practice at different studios in town. I’m really enjoying getting back to my own practice right now. It’s been a good move.

  7. wow– absolutely loved this post.

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