The Art of Falling On Your Face

June 15, 2015    BY B Grace Bullock, PhD

Sometimes it takes falling flat on your face to understand how the lessons we learn on our yoga mats matter.

Just last weekend I fell headlong into a lesson while rebuilding the wooden deck outside my home. In the midst of some demo work, I was on my knees trying to pull up a decaying board with all my might. Little did I know my friend, Karyn, had just cut into another old board behind me. When I attempted to use that board for leverage it gave way sending me hurling forward, face first into the jagged beams below.

Just last weekend I fell headlong into a lesson while rebuilding the wooden deck outside my home.

Searing pain tore from my left cheekbone to my forehead. The world was blurry, and I felt like a cartoon character with stars spinning around her head.

As I pushed my way up I met Karyn’s worried eyes. “Are you OK?” she whispered. “I think so,” I replied. Then we both burst out laughing. We laughed so hard that it hurt—literally—I thought my head was going to explode from the pain and the vibrations of our laughter. In that moment, skinned, bloodied, and covered in saw dust, I realized that I’d just survived a real-life version of one of my favorite yogic lessons: “face plants”.

Several times each year, I teach a yoga class devoted to face plants. It involves a sequence that culminates in bakasana (crow pose), combined with reflections on falling with grace.

Crow pose involves planting your hands into the floor, engaging your core, and hugging your inner thighs into your relatively straight upper arms so that your body floats upward and hovers above the ground. Some crows take flight; others collapse in a heap—sometimes face first.

Crow pose is as much about surrender as it is about strength and tenacity.

Crow pose was the first arm balance I set my sights on learning. I approached it with determined ferocity, convinced that with enough power and precision, I could take flight. I was wrong. Crow pose is as much about surrender as it is about strength and tenacity. The more I tried to force it, the more often I fell.

Falling came with intense frustration. I was overcome with internal admonishments, and feelings of failure. In time, however, I realized that crow has little to do with nailing the pose and everything to do with how you fall out of it. After all, in the grand scheme of the things, it’s just a yoga pose. 

As is true for much of asana practice, crow pose is a metaphor for life: sometimes you soar and sometimes you crash. The highs-and-lows are simply constant reminders that we are, indeed, human. More importantly, falling is inevitable. What really matters is how you get back up.

B Grace Bullock, PhD
B Grace Bullock, PhD, E-RYT 500 is a psychologist, research scientist, educator, organizational innovator, inspirational speaker, science journalist, and author of Mindful Relationships: Seven Skills for Success - Integrating the Science of Mind, Body and Brain (Handspring Publishing, 2016). She is dedicated to empowering individuals, groups, leaders and organizations to reduce chronic stress and increase awareness, attention, compassion, mindfulness and effective communication, and to... Read more>>