All day long my head bobbles atop my body, leading the way. I orient myself to the horizon beneath the limitless sky. Standing up from where my feet find rugged earth, linoleum floor, grasses and sands and gravels, I know where I belong. It is automatic, this right side up thing. It is the first thing we do in the morning – we get up! It is familiar and functional to walk through the world in this way, with our feet below and our head held high, so ingrained that we don’t even realize that we habitually see the world through a particular perspective.
Humans are creatures of habit. We learn and repeat and repeat behaviors, like the same old way we respond in that situation, and the shape our musculature settles into after years of sitting/dancing/breathing in this way. We have mental habits too, the themes and thoughts and theories we tend to draw again and again. They feel spontaneous and self-evident when really our thinking is filtered through the surprisingly narrow lens of our core beliefs – baseline conclusions we have unconsciously gleaned from the triumphs and wounds of our history. Our patterns of thinking, relating, and holding ourselves are drawn from and arranged around these beliefs. The view is limited. Rarely do we pause to question our knee jerk reactions, because they have become reflexive. However, unlike the reflex to jerk when the knee is struck, we actually do have the ability to actively participate in our mental process by taking a step back and observing. A mindfulness practice helps us to catch a reflexive thought or behavior as it bubbles up from the burner of our core beliefs and habituated patterning, and to slow down the bubble long enough to choose another way (to see things, to speak, to tense up) before it breaks the surface. The simplest practice is called a “mindful pause.” Check out my article on the mindful pause for a number of easy ways to weave this simple yet potent practice into your every day life to create more mental space and cultivate conscious action. (link coming soon!)
Another fantastically fun way to play with perspective and expand the mind’s eye view is to flip your perspective up side down – literally. Changing any habit can be a catalyst for other habits to change, and what better way to remind, nudge, and inspire a shift in perspective then to literally shift your perspective? Going up side down and looking at the world from a different point of view can be profoundly altering and refreshing, not to mention it comes with a slew of physiological benefits (which in fact I will mention later on).
Introducing: inversions! An inversion is a position in which your head is below your heart*. You don’t have to be a yogi acrobat to do inversions, although if you are then you might enjoy more advanced inversions such as headstands, handstands, and wheel pose to name a few. More accessible ways to try on a topsy-turvy view include downward dog pose, draping yourself over a chair belly up, folding forward to let your head dangle down, or lying on a bed with just your top parts cascading down towards the floor.
* note: It is important to modify or abstain from postures that cause pain or are contraindicated with a condition you may have, such as unmedicated high blood pressure, some heart conditions, neck injuries, recent stroke, detached retina, glaucoma, and epilepsy.
Let me paint a picture of a personal favorite that is actually very simple for most people to do. I am hiking up a hill with a friend. The incline has my legs tingling the tiniest bit with heat. I bear most of my weight in the balls of my feet, digging step after step into the grassy terrain to push my way up the slope. We are fired up by what we’re talking about too, and the flames from my legs mingle with the flames lighting up my mind as I share passionately about this thing I am thinking about with such intensity and focus. My eyes focus too, intently fixed on the spot of dirt and grass just two feet ahead, my head bent downward as if drawn forward by the very action of looking. The talking and the hiking are now knocking at my chest, breath is moving faster and faster to keep up and I can feel my heart alive and kicking in the conversation with my friend and my thoughts and the slope. Then, a welling of everything: heartbeat, hard breathing, legs tingling, and a crescendo in the conversation stops us in our tracks midway up the mountain. A natural time for a break. We fall into wordless heaving to catch our breath, and for just a moment we lose out train of thought and let our eyes meander along the tree-line below. My lower back now speaks up, tight and tired from the rigorous hike, my head too feels heavy with all the work of thinking and orienting, and I instinctively lean my torso down toward the ground. Facing uphill, I plant my palms in the earth and walk my feet back into a downward dog position, hips high and spine long. Big breath. My eyes rest passively on the greens and blues and browns. Then I actively look: I see what I am actually seeing for what it is: a “sky” of grass above a fringe of dark green hearts planting their points into a smooth, blue ground. Although my mind keeps trying to flip the image back up to match my idea of how ground and sky look and behave, I actively focus my attention back to what I actually see. By the time I stand back up, I feel refreshed. The heavier aspects of my story have dropped off into the ground, and I am lighter, my eyes alive.
The physiological benefits of going up side down are many. Inversions are highly energizing, as they reverse the blood flow and bring fresh blood to the brain, and invigorate physical and mental processes. Conversely, inversions in which you are lying down with legs up are calming to the nervous system. Inversions can also fortify the immune system by moving lymph to eliminate toxins. Depending on the pose, you may also be improving strength and balance as you experiment and play with new ways of engaging with gravity. Which brings me to my final endorsement for putting your feet up and letting your hair down: it’s fun! Get creative and use inversions to literally “turn that frown up side down” and I guarantee you will end up laughing at some point.
So, flip the script and take advantage of a new vantage point. Enjoy!
Sasha Wright, LCSW
I provide psychotherapy in the Bay Area. My holistic orientation embraces the body, mind, and spirit as intertwined aspects of being. My work focuses on seeking resilience and weaving sustainably vibrant lives, and is infused by my own practices in dance, mindfulness, creative arts, earth based spirituality, and spending time in nature. I write to share ideas, inspire embodiment, and support wellbeing. Enjoy!
Sasha Wright is a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW #70802) providing therapy in the San Francisco Bay Area, and sees clients in Berkeley & Oakland.