I’ve been going to yoga classes for years now and despite all my best efforts, I’ve never been able to do a headstand. Which makes it sound like I’m a pro at the Crow and the Peacock postures, and that it’s just the headstand that’s missing from my comprehensive yogic repertoire.
The truth is, I’m barely competent at even the standing postures. I still get confused between Warrior 1 and Warrior 2. The forward fold continues to elude me — whilst everyone else in the class can place their entire palms on the ground next to their feet, it was a real moment of triumph the day I managed to connect all 10 fingertips to the mat.
And so you can imagine what a hurdle the headstand has been for me. What a torment every time the teacher announces, “Now, Sirshasana, everyone!” My chest deflates, my spine slumps, and my mouth droops.
In class, there’s a group that gets down on their knees and instantly, they’re upside down, rigid like a popsicle. And they can stay like that all day.
Meanwhile, another group goes up against the wall, and suddenly, they’re upside down too — though in the yoga politics, I get the sense that people who need the wall for a headstand are regarded as second-class citizens.
Me… I struggle even with the wall. Over the years, teachers have tried their best with me. “You’re collapsing on your shoulders!” one sighed. “Stick your chest out,” said another. “Pull your stomach in!” “Lift your legs higher!” “Tighten your thighs!”
“Why do you torment yourself?!” Saffy once asked.
“I really want to be able to do it!”
Her bosom inflated to a dangerous volume. “How will doing a headstand make your life better?”
I tried to explain that it wasn’t about making my life better. That lately, I’d realised that as I’ve gotten older, I’m not learning anything new.
In school, you were always learning. And for years, you never stopped. Every day, something new was inserted into your brain. And then one day, you find yourself watching Dr Pimple Popper and wondering if this is what life is all about. Somewhere between your first job and Kim Kardashian’s feud with Taylor Swift, you’ve stopped learning.
And then, some random thing like a headstand pops up and suddenly, that’s all you care about.
“You are so incredibly strange!” Saffy told me.
A couple of weeks ago, I bumped into my friend Vivienne. She’s a hotshot hotel executive who, a few years ago, took time off work, shaved her head and became a yoga instructor. Of course, I immediately began moaning about my lack of progress with the headstand.
“You must come to this great school I go to!” she said. “It’s in Serangoon Gardens. They have inversion classes, and they do headstands and variations for beginners!”
Which is how, a few days later, I found myself at Yoga Kalari in a room full of pretty young women who were contorting themselves into unimaginable poses. And it was all so quiet, too. No one spoke. Just a lot of quiet movement. All you needed was some steam, some sticky goo, and it would have been exactly like that scene where Ripley stumbles into the egg pod room in Aliens, and all the eggs start hatching. I was scared out of my wits.
“Are you mad?!” I hissed at Vivienne who was currently serenely upside down. “This is a basic inversion class?” But before she could reply, the master came around. He sat on a mat and pointed at a spot in front of him.
“Come!” he commanded. “Put your head down here. Put your hands like this. Now lift your hips. Move your legs closer. Closer! Closer! Lift your hips! Lift!”
And suddenly, I was upside down. Swaying like a drunk — back and forth and sideways — and I would have toppled over any number of times, but the master calmly nudged my hips with a finger to steady me, and at one stage, I was in a full unassisted headstand for, like, three seconds.
“Now practise against the wall,” the master said as he moved onto the Alien hatchlings.
I can’t begin to describe what that class represented to me. After all these years, someone, with minimal words and a few finger jabs, had achieved what none of the teachers before had managed to teach me. And finally, I had learnt something new.
I went back to Yoga Kalari the following week, and by the end of the lesson, I was, admittedly in a very wobbly way, getting up into the posture unassisted. But still… I beamed for days.
Saffy says the next thing I need to learn is to get a life.