Press Down to Lift Up: shoulderstand, the up side down way to learn to reach your dreams

One of the most delicious and maddening things about being human is having dreams. I’m not just talking about goals:  this house, that sales figure, that asana, this number of pounds lost or muscle gained. I’m talking about a vision, a feeling of how the world could be, will be how we want it to be.

It’s called being attached, and any first time visitor to meditation hall or yoga class knows that attachment is the cardinal sin of those who seek “Enlightenment”. According to some ways of thinking, it’s the number one cause of dukkha, suffering. But simply severing it isn’t the answer… even if we could.

I’m a great fan of recurrence theories, perhaps it’s my Ancient Greek Philosophy roots, or maybe even the sparkling brilliance of Hegel still bubbling and opening my cranial cavities after all these years, but if there’s one thing of which I’m certain, it’s that nothing happens BOOM! all of a sudden, once and for all, emerging Athena-like, full blown from the thigh of anything or any one.

Even love at first sight. Take the first time I saw my husband. He waited behind me with  a compliment and a smile after my first poetry reading. I stood at the bar, ordering refreshment for my moral support, ready to wheel and slice any man who trod near my tender heart or toes. As I turned, ready to “burn him with my eyes”, my ember stoked eyes fell on his and the furnace of my heart opened to a rush of air that fed flames I didn’t know existed. It was truly a life changing moment.  I knew this person was important, and social stories and norms being what they are, I bore the usual twinge of “could he be…?” But love is a series of choices to keep the furnace tended, sometimes opened, sometimes closed, always stoked, but not to high… and not to jump in, but to sit close and absorb the warmth, to sit close with somebody else, and to remain.

And so with all great stories and commitments, which both enlightenment and non-attachment must be. We make small choices every day that create conditions to invite the condition of which we dream. We dream. We are attached to our dreams, but then we sit. We become and are capable of making distinctions between the conditions of which we dream and the particular things, feelings and people that stand in for our imaginative purposes. We find the emptiness in the dream, and so make the realization possible.

We can live and create our dreams, but only if we let go of specific ideas about how they’ll come true. The best way I know to do this is head down, eyes on the path. Do what is right in front of me with everything I am. The “everything I am” part keeps me focused on foudations, because a big part of who I am is the commitments I’ve made and the beings I love.

And so, contemplating one readers’ plaint of being unable to lift the butt into shoulder stand, I’ve been paying particular attention to how that lightness is created. And it’s no surprise to find that it’s from the bottom up. If you focus on levitating your backside over your shoulders, you’re going to struggle. It’s a lot of core strength, but as much as muscle it’s the union of opposing forces. To raise any part of the body, mind or spirit, another part must be reaching in & down.

In this case the elbows and backs of the arms work nicely. But we can even get more basic than that: the precursor to shoulderstand is bridge, so this is a lovely place to investigate the feeling of butt levitation. From a supine position, bend knees & place the feet on the mat, parallel and hip width apart, close to your rear. You press into your feet to lift your backside and so your frontside. Play with all the ways to press your feet into the floor – there are multiple combinations of muscles that will get the job done and you’ll feel the differences. Press more into your heels, then the toes, then lift the outsides of your feet. Try to move your knees farther from your hips (but never further than your ankles) without moving your hips.

Next, move up to the arms which will be important in your levitation. You can bring the elbows together & support your upper butt with your hands. See what that feels like and maybe try lifting one leg at a time off the floor. You can also support the sacrum with a block and experiment with different levels.

Investigate drawing the shoulders back & together, externally rotating the upper arms and maybe even clasping the hands. The neck should not be on the floor. This is very important, and you should take great care. Do not try shoulderstand if you have an injury or are concerned about your neck, high blood pressure, strokes. Talk to a teacher before going up. This blog is never a substitute for in person advice of a qualified teacher.

Another way to investigate your foundation for this amazing inversion is against a wall. Sit knees tucked with one arm & thigh against the wall. Lay down with the support of the other arm, onto your back, extending your legs up the wall. You might still want to inch your butt closer still to the wall. Bend your knees, place your feet against the wall, parallel and hip width apart, and press into them. Voila! Your butt comes up & off the wall, over your torso. You can play with pressing into the feet, and eventually (making sure your neck is always in a gentle natural curve off the ground) straighten your legs, feel pressing into the wall, for a supported shoulderstand. If you support your sacrum with your hands and bring your legs back so that your thighs and abdomen are at a right angle, this is half shoulder stand and a great way to work into the full stretch of the back required for shoulder stand. Focus on your legs and feet being bright and engage your core, bringing the abdominals back to support your organs and spine.

By focusing on the little things, the everyday decisions of where we press down, what we engage, little by little we move toward the fullest expression of our dreams. The path sometimes bears little resemblance to a disinterested viewer, but we know where the connections are, we feel how the oppositions support one another and finally flower into the very conditions that seemed so far away.

Non-attachment? Maybe, or maybe just loosening the strings, tending the tent stakes and letting the breeze billow the tent makes the heart light enough to take refuge under the sky.

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