Overcoming FEAR in yoga inversions

Many people feel hesitation when it comes to yoga inversions but still really want to do them. “Getting” a yoga pose after many years of work is a memorable experience and provides the doorway into increasingly advanced postures. If negative self-talk, or ineffective thinking is making it hard overcoming FEAR in yoga inversions, read and apply these 5 steps and you’ll be up balancing in handstand, headstand, or forearm stand in no time!

1. Which pose do you want to achieve?

5 rules for overcoming fear in inversions

The 5 rules for overcoming fear in yoga inversions

This is the easy part. You know it already. Handstand? Headstand? Forearm stand?

Start with your mind.

Many people are familiar with the studies at the University of Chicago where researchers took  three groups of students and initially tested them on the average number of free throws of them shooting a basketball would make it into the basket.

They then were assigned for the next 30 days to either:

A) Do nothing (no practice of any kind at all)

B) ONLY visualize their basketball practice (see themselves doing it in their minds)

C) Physically practice 20 minutes a day


Of course, the sad group who didn’t practice or visualize made zero improvements, but groups B and C had  astounding results:- group B improved by 23% and group C improved by 24%. Just visualizing the end result had almost the same improvements as physically practicing. Unfortunately no one has repeated the study with a fourth group that did both physical practice and visualization, but I suspect it would have a cumulative effect.

In order to learn any pose or action a bit faster, you can visualize yourself in the same way. To start, find an example of someone who does the inversion well already and study what it is they do. Better if it’s live, but you can always use an image or better yet, a video. Embed it deeply into your mind and use an inner magnifying glass until you can see the fine little details, even the look on their face and the way that they breathe.

Now close your eyes and imagine… see in your mind’s eye an image of YOU doing the pose. After some time, switch to “do” the pose in your mind but from a first-person perspective- ie; “see” through your eyes as you do it, and “feel” the feelings in your body. The process of visualizing abilities and mastering them works because our motor neurons are activated in an empathetic response, even if it occurs only in the “mind”. This is because in order to understand the role model, the muscles in your body ‘empathize’ with what it sees and in undetectable ways tenses the muscles involved in the process. Practice and repetition, whether purely visualized or embodied is treated as a learning event by your neurology.

TIP: Get a good role model, internalize him/her, and then see yourself doing the inversions from multiple viewpoints

2. Be mindful of self-talk

When people complain they can’t get into a pose they often say “I can’t do X”. This means that the speaker is also implying “I will never be able to” or “it is impossible for me to”. Do you ever hear yourself or your students saying this? Catch your self-talk. One the easiest things is to take the limiting statements and add “until today”, or “until now”. So if the limiting self-talk says “I can’t do handstands” you simply remind yourself that that was true… “until today”.
Put time back in the way you think, because nothing is “true” forever!

TIP: Your perceived limitations are not forever, they exist, but only “until today”

3. Think of the inversion as made up of smaller units

It can be helpful to think not in terms of the whole posture but in individual, do-able components. You might think of yourself as “afraid” to do a handstand, but it’s a lot harder to be afraid of the sequencing that go into making up a good handstand. When we relate to a pose as a “pose” our brains act on it as a whole and what it is we think we know about it- i.e.; whether we think we can OR whether we think we cannot. Given two choices of success or failure getting a pose seems either possible or impossible. It is always a journey of increasing skill and competency, no matter how long it takes.

Remember, anything can be accomplished when the task is broken down into small enough chunks, and the same goes for your yoga. What needs to be there? What smaller, finer pieces of strength, flexibility, and attitude can be worked on in immediately approachable ways that give you the background skill? Ask your teacher and you should get some good sequencing ideas or send me an email and I’ll share with you what I know.

TIP- Don’t think of the “pose”, think of what the manageable skills the pose is made up of and master those first

4. Ask yourself motivating questions
As people we only put effort into those things that hold a high value for us. This may not be immediately obvious, but it is behind why people say they want to do something but don’t take action. The following questions help bring into view the intensity of our motivation. By answering them and vivifying your answers to yourself in a meaningful way, not only will you overcome the fear, but you’ll also find many ways to achieve your outcome.

What makes doing this pose important to me? What will it mean about me as a person to have already achieved this?

Answering this will build motivation and put your mind into a future where you have successfully achieved the posture (a good visualization skill). It also makes it mean something about you as a person, or your identity which is a powerful motivator and overrides whatever it is you did to make you feel fearful in the first place. On the other hand, if you discover that it’s not really that important, you can always let it go with a smile.

TIP: Build your motivation to practice more with questions. Write down your answers!

5. Practice!
Remember visualizing alone can improve your ability to do an inversion by a substantial amount, while the rest is in DOING. Nothing replaces practice, time spent on the mat. Nothing. Nothing gets you on the mat unless you have motivation to do so, and motivation is built up through what you value as being important. Perfect the necessary smaller skills in many different postures. And of course, temper your optimism with physical “realities” if injury or the shape of your bones is not supportive of your goals. In that case, find out what you need to, practice where you need to, and don’t ever take it to mean that you “can’t”.

TIP: Practice the individual skills with your body, build motivation, and practice in your mind!

Do you agree? Do you use similar techniques for yourself? Please share your comments and discussion!

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