Yesterday I went to the 10:30 morning yoga class. Class was good and I was feeling great until we got to inversions. I decided to do a headstand (which I rarely do at the yoga center, only when I’m feeling particularly strong and confident). I did my headstand, held for a few minutes, and came down, and then J came over to me. He explained that I had my elbows too wide in the headstand – the elbows shouldn’t be wider than the shoulders, so I should bring them in closer together. He also said I should bring my feet close together, as that would make it easier to balance. Then he told me to try it again.
I had some difficulty lifting back up into headstand – I’d already done it once and was a little tired. Also, the new arm position felt unnatural. J helped me lift my ankles. As soon as I was vertical in the pose, I knew it wasn’t right for me: I felt very uncomfortable and my neck really hurt, which is a major problem in a headstand. Thinking back now, I think that with the new arm position I wasn’t able to press strongly enough through my arms, putting all the pressure on my head and thus my neck. Either the new position made it physically difficult for me to press strongly, or I wasn’t confident enough with it to press strongly, but either way it was a problem. I wanted to come down out of the pose right away, but J was in front of me holding my ankles, so if I had dropped down I would have kicked him in the face. I panicked and didn’t say anything because I was afraid I’d (A) cry or (B) shout, so I just kept my mouth shut. I tried to press down through my arms to alleviate the pressure on my neck, but I don’t think it helped much, and I tried to follow J’s instructions about lifting my hips and keeping my feet together. I have no idea how I did with this. The base for my headstand was so uncertain and uncomfortable that I don’t know how well I held up at all. As soon as J moved aside, I dropped down. I tried to do a few neck stretches, but I was really shaken. Then it was time for sivasana.
I spent most of sivasana alternately being really angry and upset and trying to calm myself down. I felt angry foremost at J for making me do this modification that turned out to be so painful and so scary. But I knew I couldn’t be too angry with him – he’s a yoga teacher, not a mind reader. Also, he knows I’m an experienced student and should be able to trust me not to do something that hurts (while I on the other hand should be able to trust him not to hurt me, but this is a circular argument). I was angry most of all at myself for not being better able to respond to the situation. I know that I can have trouble with my neck in headstand and I could have been more careful; I could have told him I didn’t want to do the pose again; or I could have said something when it hurt, even if it resulted in me crying or shouting. Sticking it out through a tough pose is one thing, but when a pose actually causes pain, you’re supposed to come out of it or modify it right away. I felt angry that I let that situation happen, even though there didn’t seem to be anything else I could do at the time (short of kicking my teacher in the face).
I got myself mostly calmed down by the time we got to meditation. After class, I tried to wait to talk to J, but there was a new student in the class and he always likes to check in with new students after class. I used the rest room, and when I came back upstairs, everyone else was gone except J and the new student, who were talking in the back room, so I left too. I spent the afternoon with my parents and managed to put the bad feelings out of my mind.
I woke up this morning with a really, really sore neck. I still feel upset with J, and with myself. I think I do need to talk to him about this because I don’t want this to affect our working relationship (considering we’re stuck with each other until December) and plus he just deserves to know. Also, I want to talk about the pose itself and why he felt it necessary to modify my headstand in that way. Would keeping my elbows wide eventually lead to some other sort of injury? Right now I’m torn between wanting to practice playing with the new arm position in a safe way at home (after the current soreness heals, of course), wanting to ignore what he told me and keep doing it the old way, and wanting never to do a headstand again. Choosing the last option would mean giving in to the fear that I feel about the pose now, and that’s not a good idea. I also really, really don’t want to have to confront J. I could go to one of N’s classes instead this week but I feel like that would be avoiding the issue.
So, dear readers, what do you think? Tips on practicing headstand safely? Authoritative suggestions on correct arm positioning? Ideas on how to approach J?