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Bakasana Vinyasa (Crane Pose Performed from Tripod Headstand)

Arm balances don't require enormous strength—just patience, concentration, and a sense of humor.

By Donna Farhi

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I jest to friends that I ride horses so I can scare myself to death on a regular basis. In such a challenging pursuit, there's always the chance of falling; a moment's inattention can result in serious injury. But people don't ride horses, rock climb, or ski down sheer slopes because of the danger. They do these activities because the absolute focus required makes them feel intensely, undeniably alive.

Deciding that you want to live with this level of aliveness isn't always easy. Challenging yourself can be like taking a cold shower first thing in the morning: You know you'll feel great afterward, but turning that dial from hot to cold-from comfort to challenge-may require the full force of your will power.

In this column I want to invite you to challenge yourself with a fairly advanced headstand-arm balance cycle. Many of us never attempt these postures. We can't do them because we don't practice them and we don't practice them because, well...we can't do them. Rather than face the discomfort of experiencing ourselves as beginners, we get stuck in an eddy of inertia, trapped in endless repetition of what we already know. Or, if we do challenge ourselves, we quickly give up, flustered and uncomfortable with our ungainly efforts.

When we give up in the face of challenge, we cheat ourselves of the immense satisfaction that follows from building any skill to fruition. The trouble is that we can't know, in the beginning, just how good we're going to feel when our gross fumblings and awkward failures slowly transform into mastery. We might have an inkling, but we don't really know that working through our ineptitude will open us up to immense rewards. All we know in the moment is that what we're doing is really hard.

When I began studying dressage—the art of training yourself and your horse to move together in balanced, unified action—I despaired that I would never master the most basic position of my legs. After a few circles in the riding arena, my legs would be flapping hopelessly, my feet out of the stirrups, my reins lost, and smoke (I was certain) blowing out of my ears. Gradually the immense difficulty of having to coordinate so many actions at once lessened. Brief moments of moving in complete harmony with my horse, Braga, left me tremendously exhilarated. Even a few seconds of graceful ease in a canter seemed to open the sky above me as if that single moment had expanded into infinity.

For most people, learning to do Bakasana (Crane Pose) from Headstand will be like my experience of learning dressage. If you've never done it, you probably can't imagine how good it feels—and you may think you'll never succeed. So, in the beginning, you need a little faith. You need to believe that it's okay to stay right with yourself, to develop what you can do instead of fretting about what you can't, and to work patiently through your clumsiness, regardless of how long it takes. But you simply can't bypass your own ineptitude—unless, of course, you wish to remain inept forever.

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