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How to Overcome Your Fear of Inversions

Heidi Kristoffer

I will never forget my first yoga class. The music was pumping, it was mat-to-mat crowded, the teacher was uber-enthusiastic, and there were smiles and sweat everywhere. The teacher would cue, and I would follow. Then, came the time when we were in down dog, and she said, “pedal your feet in, soften your knees, come high to the balls of your feet, and kick your butt!” So, I did, and man, was it fun! And so was every other time she cued an inversion or arm balance. 

It never occurred to me to be scared, so when I started noticing that a lot of the class opted out, I wondered why. Years into yoga, people started asking me tips for inversions. Not being certified as a teacher at the time, I wasn’t comfortable giving tips, but after a while, I relented and started to play around with some of my friends. I wanted to figure out what the barriers were to getting them to this place that was so fun, freeing, and empowering to me. When I did get certified and start teaching, I noticed even more how much fear there was surrounding inversions, and how little faith people had in their own abilities. 

Today, I lead inversion and arm balance workshops all over the world. The most important tips I can give? See below!

1. Get out of your head! Much like the Henry Ford quote, if you think you can, or you think you can’t, you are probably right! Of course you need basic strength, body integration and awareness, but for athletic healthy people, or seasoned yogis, there is no reason why you can’t start by hopping up to a handstand at a wall.

2. Think about why you're scared. It’s probably an issue that goes a lot deeper than on your yoga mat. If inversions interest you, I highly recommend taking a workshop with a teacher who specializes in them. Or, try a video like this one: Step-by-Step Breakdown: Handstand Pose. Then, follow these three tips.

3. It’s not so serious. You are playing and going upside down—flipping your perspective literally. Channel your inner child, she or he is probably dying to get out! Play around at a wall, play around in a park with your friends, and if you have access play on a beach, where if you fall, you just get some soft sand on the landing. 

4. Take the emphasis off the pose. Don’t concentrate so hard on nailing the picture in your head of what you think an inversion should look like.   Play with getting comfortable being upside down first. Then, when you do go upside down, try keeping your legs split—it’s much easier to balance that way.  Enjoy the journey of discovering a new perspectivethat’s what it’s all about.  And once you shift your focus to the process, you will be having fun and getting upside down in no time.

5. Work within the limits of your body, but most importantly, believe in yourself! You are as strong as you decide to be—and you are so much stronger than you think! Give yourself the opportunity to surprise yourself! Get out there! Have fun!  

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