Standing on Your Head
27 Inversion Practices to Build Your Awareness
©2012 by Tina Berger Licensed under the Creative Commons License, Attribution 3.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/ Please feel free to copy or distribute electronically—via email or blog—to anyone you think would benefit from this eBook. And if you are interested in more information on inversion practices or other awareness practices, visit my blog at http://guidedpassages.blogspot.com. Warm regards, Tina Berger Founder, Guided Passages www.guided-passages.com
What are inversion practices?
Inversion practices are practices in which we reverse our habitual ways of doing, seeing, and thinking about things; we turn our habits upside down or reverse them in order to develop awareness of our patterns and increase our flexibility to think, see, and move outside of them. In this little book, you will find descriptions of 27 different inversion practices. This is neither a complete list, nor a recommended list. Not everyone has the same habits; some of the practices described in these pages may be very challenging to you, while others may not be a stretch at all. Think of this collection as a place to begin. Pick a few of the 27 that feel right for you to try out, and watch your reactions. Most likely, as you begin to practice inversion, you will begin to notice some specific areas where your own perceptions and habits feel the most constricted. If a practice has not been provided to address those areas, go ahead and develop your own. Go on now! Stand on your head! Tina Berger
1. Drive intuitively.
No maps. No directions. No goals. No GPS. No schedule.
Habitual Pattern: Decide where to go, use maps and devices to find the most direct route, and drive there. Inversion Practice: Don’t decide where to go, don’t use a map or devices; just get in the car for a fun adventure, turning and stopping according your instincts. Invite a friend if you like. For some of us driving has become a tedious activity, just a way to get from point A to point B. We have a places to be and schedules to keep and miles to go before we sleep. But what if it weren’t like that? What if we could put the fun back into driving, even just for the day? Decide on an initial direction, and just drive until it feels right to either stop or turn again. Trust yourself. Stop anyplace that that catches your eye or calls to you. After all, you are free. The wheels are yours. Use them.
2. Be invisible.
Enter a wild space like a deer…quietly and furtively. Be completely still. Or move slowly and silently.
Habitual Pattern: Unconsciously change and disrupt wild spaces, looking for things to do, eat, or take. Inversion Practice: Visit wild spaces without changing or disrupting them. Enter the woods (or other natural space) as quietly and unobtrusively as possible and then simply be still. Most of us never really get to see a wild space in a state anywhere near its natural state. The minute we arrive, animals scatter. We make noise without thinking, and we step on growing things without noticing. What would happen if we did it differently? Try entering a wilderness area without being disruptive. Walk silently and mindfully. Leave your phone in the car. Sit still against a tree (or even in a tree) and see what happens around you.
3. Sleep under the stars.
In your backyard, at a campsite, on a balcony in the middle of the city. Nestle yourself down under a blanket of stars.
Habitual Pattern: Sleep through the night indoors with walls, a roof, and automatic temperature control. Inversion Practice: Sleep outdoors with no walls, no roof. Control your own temperature with clothing and bedding choices. Many of us have become accustomed to separating ourselves from the natural world, especially at night when our vision is limited. We stay indoors, and the night sky is reduced to a beautiful backdrop we appreciate through our closed windows. But what if, for one night, the stars became everything as we drift off to sleep? Take your sleeping bag to a campsite or out in your back yard. Make yourself as comfortable as possible (suffering is not the point) and count stars tonight.
4. Eat Nothing for a Day.
Experience your day without the distraction and rhythm of meals. Fill yourself with the wonder of the day.
Habitual Pattern: Eat whatever is desired whenever it is desired, typically at least three meals in 24 hours (in the West). Inversion Practice: Eat nothing for 24 hours. If we are not intentionally mindful and grateful, eating can become an unconscious act. Food fasts are as old as mankind. We do them for medicinal purposes, for spiritual purposes and sometimes for causes we believe in. What happens when we fast for the cause of our own awareness? Forego food for just one day, and set your clock by another measure. Find quiet spaces to notice your reactions. Listen to the messages from your body, mind and spirit without the distraction of food.
5. Don’t Speak.
Commit a day to silence. Practice listening and giving attention to those things that get lost in the swirl of our noisy lives.
Habitual Pattern: Speak automatically, unconsciously, and sometimes unnecessarily. Inversion Practice: Say nothing for 24 hours. Only listen, and listen deeply. Some of us have a difficult time holding our tongues. In conversations, we often have so many ideas and words to express that we attend only superficially to the words of others. What happens if we stop speaking and instead listen intently to the feelings, thoughts, and ideas of others? What if we take it one step further and listen to everything going on around us? Stop speaking for just one day. If you must communicate something important, write it down. Notice what you’ve been missing, and journal your reactions.
6. Give something away.
Turn the habit of acquisition on its head and give something away. Not just anything. Give away something that you love.
Habitual Pattern: Unconsciously acquire things based on needs, wants, and desires. Inversion Practice: Intentionally give away one or more prized possessions. Do we own our possessions or do they own us? It is a question we may wish to turn away from. We are constantly immersed in the messages that our happiness depends on getting and having certain things. Our fast-paced lives may leave us feeling the need to self-comfort through acquisition. Look around your house at the things you most prize. Find something that means something to you, write a note about its meaning and why you are letting it go and then give it to someone who will appreciate it.
Stay off of all technology and your personal electronic devices for a day.
Habitual Pattern: Check cell phone messages, email, the internet, and social networking sites constantly throughout the day. Inversion Practice: Refrain from using your cell phone or computer for 24 hours. The miracle of technology has transformed our lives. We have immediate access to all sorts of information in a myriad of formats, and we can connect to each other more easily over thousands of miles. What happens when we take a breather from that miracle? Today, take a technology break and get reacquainted with the world that exists outside of your computer and your cell phone. Even if you don’t feel like technology obsession is a problem for you, give it a try and see if you are missing anything.
8. Give Thanks.
Contact someone who has done something meaningful for you and let them know how much it meant (or means) to you.
Habitual Pattern: Unconsciously thank people for help or for gifts in the moment. Inversion Practice: Making a conscious effort to express gratitude for specific significant and meaningful support. Many of us say, “thank you,” all the time—at the grocery store when someone yields their place in line, when someone lets us enter a lane in traffic, when someone opens a door. But there are people in our lives whose support has impacted us on a profound and lasting level. While they probably already know we are grateful, what happens when we take some time to really tell them? Write a letter and send it. Pick up the phone and call. Make a PowerPoint presentation outlining all the ways what they have done has made a difference to you. Just let them know.
9. Think about death.
Write about your death or someone else’s. Celebrate your death. Write your eulogy. Grieve a death if you know you need to.
Habitual Pattern: Avoid considering death. Inversion Practice: Consider death and allow yourself to be awakened by the inevitability of it. Most of us are probably not great with facing death, either our own or that of a loved one. The unknown nature of the hereafter can send us running for all sorts of distractions. What happens if we stop running and allow ourselves to consider mortality? Many indigenous cultures celebrate death as a natural part of the cycle of life. What are we missing by our refusal to acknowledge the fact that our time here is limited? Today, take some time to consider death, your death in particular. What would the world be like without you? What would you need to do before you can die peacefully? Are you living in a way that you want to be remembered?
10. Breathe deeply.
Get somewhere alone where you can spend some time learning to breathe deeply…and then do it.
Habitual Pattern: Breathe shallowly and rapidly. Inversion Practice: Breathe deeply and slowly. During the colonization of Hawaii, the islanders came up with the nickname “Haole” for the mainlanders who were settling there. Haole, literally translated means “without breath.” Western culture is a culture of shallow breathers. There are many documented health benefits of deep breathing. In the East, the breath is the vehicle for the “life force energy” or “prana.” What happens if we slow down a bit and deepen our breathing for just a few minutes a day? Reacquaint yourself with your breath and how it feels to draw deep breaths into your body. For 5 minutes each day for a week, sit somewhere comfortable and take long, slow and deep breaths. Notice any shifts in your energy and awareness.
Remember what it is like to have no idea how to do something. Take up painting, guitar, roller skating…something you have never done before.
Habitual Pattern: Desire to be a competent, recognized expert. Inversion Practice: Desire to be a rank amateur—a beginner. As adults, we like to know what we’re doing and to be respected for what we know. Remembering the beginner’s mind is important for so many reasons. When we experience a thorough lack of ability in an area, we can more easily feel compassion for those around us who also struggle to learn something new. Each new activity we pick up creates new neural connections in our brain and helps keep our mind sharp and nimble as we grow older. Today, begin to learn to do something new. Learn to paint, to sew, to play an instrument, to change your oil, to make a piece of furniture. Pick something in line with your interest but well outside of your current know-how.
12. Work slowly.
Start a project that is impossible to hurry. Plant and tend a garden. Build the perfect treehouse. Paint a mural.
Habitual Pattern: Work to complete a project rapidly and efficiently. Inversion Practice: Savor the process of engaging with a creative project over time. As our lives get busy and hectic, we may begin to select our creative projects based on what we can fit into small time increments. Even worse, we may stop planning creative projects altogether. Can we shift our thinking about our leisure projects? Can we consider our simple enjoyment of the process to be the reward of certain projects, secondary to the end product? Start a project that takes time and engages you creatively. Plan and build a tree house, appointing it lavishly with fun features. Plant a year-round garden. Let something unfold slowly at your hands. If you must set goals for completion, make the goal for a year from now.
13. Travel under your own power.
Avoid automated transport for a day. No cars…no trains…no buses. Use your legs to walk, run, skate or ride your bike.
Habitual Pattern: Drive a car to get where ever desired whenever desired. Inversion Practice: Travel without a car (or any other gas-powered transportation) for 24 hours. When we only travel across the landscape enclosed in a car, we can lose our sense of distance and our sensory connection to the environment around us. What happens when we travel under our own power, without the aid of a car or other automated transportation vehicle? What sights and sounds and other sensations do we notice? For one day, pretend that you do not have access to gas-powered transportation. Walk, ride your bike, skate, skip…whatever works for you. Notice the ways in which the experience is different. Consider the ways in which you appreciate each.
14. Free your inner child.
Do the thing that makes you feel silly. Dance or skip through your nightly walk. Spin on a tire swing. Swing high on the swing set.
Habitual Pattern: Be a sensible adult. Waste no time with play or daydreaming. Inversion Practice: Be a silly child. Play and daydream with wild abandon. We aspire to grow up so quickly, and as we do we may lose access to the more playful aspects of ourselves. Studies show that play increases our adaptability and makes us better problem solvers. When we lose the ability to play, we lose the ability to adapt and grow. What happens if we give ourselves permission to be a child again…sometimes? Just remember what you loved to do when you were a kid, and try it again. Did you love to build forts in the living room with blankets and chairs? Did you sing and dance? Did you like pretending? Go on and play! No one’s gonna tattle.
15. Be anonymously kind.
There is little that feels more exhilarating and affirming than doing something wonderful without taking credit.
Habitual Pattern: Be kind with the witness of others. Inversion Practice: Perform anonymous acts of kindness. Some are already beginning to make this a habit. There is a movement underway, called “Random Acts of Kindness.” But the movement hasn’t moved us all yet. What happens when we make the miracle of anonymous kindness happen in a stranger’s life? How does it change our perspective?
Start the wave yourself where ever you live. Begin mysteriously adding tokens of joy to the lives of strangers. Leave a package of cookies on your neighbors’ doorstep with a note. Pay for the order behind you in the drive through. Hide notes of encouragement and love in the grocery store. The return is immediate. Trust me.
16. Be a foreigner.
Visit a place where you are an outsider, a place where you don’t speak the language, don’t know the customs, or just don’t know your way around.
Habitual Pattern: Travel to familiar places and have comfortable, relaxing experiences. Inversion Practice: Travel to foreign places, be an outsider, and have unfamiliar experiences. It can be both frightening and inspiring to step outside of our comfort zones, but there can be great rewards for those who learn to do so. What happens to our awareness when we take on the experience of a stranger in a strange land?
Go somewhere that you feel like an outsider. Travel to a foreign country where you don’t speak the language. Visit a local Asian grocery store and look for a certain kind of tea. Visit a church or a temple in which you are not the ethnic or racial majority. Observe differences. Ask questions. Learn.
17. Break your own rules.
Skip the meeting… Be late Eat dinner in the morning… Get dirty… Go to a restaurant in your pajamas.
Habitual Pattern: Maintain daily rituals and observe personal rules. Inversion Practice: Take a holiday from daily rituals and break personal rules. We all have them, the routines and rules we have created for ourselves that give our days structure and make our lives predictable. What happens when we mix things up a bit and break our own rules? Try breaking a few of your favorite rules, start with the ones your friends tease you about. Do you insist on being on time to every meeting, event, and party? Be a little late. Do you avoid wearing color? Wear red. Do you mow your lawn every Saturday morning? Let it go a few days. Change the order of your morning routine. Skip the evening news. Change things up and watch your reactions.
18. Agree to agree.
Review an argument in which you have a definitive point of view and find a point of agreement with the opposing view.
Habitual Pattern: Argue and disagree completely on certain controversial issues and topics. Inversion Practice: Find ways to find value in and agreement with opposing points of view. This practice may require a bit of a stretch. And the more we stretch, the more effective the practice. Usually, whether we agree or disagree with others on an issue, they typically have reasons for their position on it. It can be truly expansive to learn to see charged issues from multiple perspectives. What new ideas can germinate when we find compassion for those with an opposing view? Find an issue that you are passionate about, and research the opposing point of view. Find a few points you can agree with, and try to understand the perspective of those on the other side of the issue. Notice how this changes your conversations.
19. Humanize your heroes.
Learn more about your heroes than what makes them great. Learn what makes them human.
Habitual Pattern: Insist on the infallibility of personal and cultural heroes. Inversion Practice: Acknowledge the humanity and imperfection of personal and cultural heroes.
A part of what makes our heroes so admirable to us is that we can relate to them. They are human like us, yet they have accomplished amazing things often under adverse conditions. Over time, it can be tempting to think of our heroes as something more than human, closing our minds to their imperfections and faults.
Examine your heroes in depth. Research and consider their frailties and mistakes. In recognizing the fullness of their humanity, we are able to more fully relate to and appreciate their accomplishments with balance and compassion.
20. Be nocturnal.
Sleep during the day and stay up all night.
Habitual Pattern: Experience the world during the day. Inversion Practice: Experience the world at night. One third of our lives is spent sleeping, and while our bodies very much need the replenishment of those hours of shut eye, we have made a habit of missing the world of darkness and the wee hours of the morning. What happens when we reverse this? Take a nap and rest up for your “creature of the night” experiment. Wake up after the sun has gone down, and get out of the house. Walk around (in a safe neighborhood) and feel how different everything feels under the cover of night. Drive to the beach at night (or any other dark and wild space) and feel the enormity of the darkness. Drive into the hills and look down on the lights below. Watch the sunrise and the city come to life.
21. Be still
Get comfortable…and be still. Remain still past the discomfort. Remain still past the to-do lists running through your head.
Habitual Pattern: Do. Inversion Practice: Be. Many of us live life according to what’s on the “todo” list. We like to get things done and check them off, cramming as much activity as possible into every waking hour, whether working or on vacation. We tell ourselves we will relax after we get enough things done, but the list never ends. What if some of our inspiration is meant to come from stillness? Take a day off, experiencing the extreme sport of doing nothing. In stillness, you will encounter all the usual suspects that spur you into activity. Ignore them. Your list will still be there tomorrow. Try not to distract or entertain yourself. Sit on the porch, flip through magazines for inspiration, nap in the easy chair, and journal ideas.
22. Let your body lead.
Listen to what your body, and let it run the show for a day.
Habitual Pattern: Let the mind lead. Inversion Practice: Let the body lead. For most of us, the mind runs the show. The mind tells us what to do, when to move, when to work, when to sleep, and when and what to eat. The needs and desires of our bodies are regularly overruled in favor of what the mind thinks “needs to be done.” How often do we remain sitting and working when our bodies are screaming for us to get up and take a walk outside or to lie down for a nap? What happens when we allow the body to lead? Take a few hours each day to allow your body to run the show. Sink into the awareness of what your body wants to do, and do it. Move, dance, eat, skip, rest. Appreciate the difference.
23. Move differently.
Remind your body that it can move in a myriad of ways. Skip. Dance wildly. Slide. Crawl. Roll. Stand on your head.
Habitual Pattern: Move the body in habitual ways Inversion Practice: Move the body in completely new ways Over time, our range of physical movements begins to contract into a small and fairly predictable repertoire of combinations. One of the symptoms of aging is the loss of physical flexibility, which correlates to a similar loss of mental flexibility. What happens If we make it a regular practice to move outside of our habitual ranges of motion? What if we intentionally create opportunities for ourselves to move in new and different ways? Each day for a week, move for 15 minutes in a completely unfamiliar way that is enjoyable to you. Take a yoga class, skip instead of walking, free dance in your living room, learn tai chi, go to the park and slide down the slide, roll in the grass.
24. Take a different perspective.
Get curious. What does that mushroom look like from the perspective of a bug? What does my house look like to a tall person? How does my street look from the perspective of my dog?
Habitual Pattern: Never shift your natural walking or sitting perspective. Inversion Practice: Regularly shift your physical perspective to take in views you wouldn’t naturally have. Have you ever been in a room where the mirrors are set up so you can see yourself from different angles? It can be fascinating to see how things look from other perspectives. What happens to our awareness when we physically change up the ways in which we view things? Use your camera to help you capture views you don’t naturally see. Take shots from underneath things. Get a close-up shot of your dog. Lie down on the sidewalk or in the middle of your quiet street to get a picture of the way from a different perspective. Walk around with your camera extended over your head, and take pictures.
25. Walk backwards.
Changing the direction of your walk naturally changes your perspective. Give it a try.
Habitual Pattern: Walk forwards. Inversion Practice: Walk backwards. Reversing our walk is another practice that can help us learn to disrupt our habitual ways of moving and to grow awareness and flexibility. How do our habitual perceptions inform and connect with our habitual movements? Walk backwards for 15 minutes per day this week. Do so slowly and mindfully in a familiar and safe environment. Experiment with looking over your shoulder from different directions. Look forward and guide yourself slowly with your feet and hands. Get a friend to watch for you, and try the same thing in a different safe space that is not well known to you. Journal your reactions.
26. Don’t use your eyes.
Wear a blindfold. Shower with the light off. Don’t turn on the light in the middle of the night when you get up to get some water.
Habitual Pattern: Be guided primarily by the sense of sight. Inversion Practice: Be guided primarily by the other four senses. We tend to rely a great deal on the information we take in visually. For most of us, our vision is central to almost all daily activity. Studies show us that people who lose their vision often develop additional sensitivity in their other four senses. What are we missing by being so dependent on this visual way of taking in the world?
Today, run some experiments to engage your other senses. Do some of the chores of your morning routine blindfolded. Make the coffee by feel and sound. Unload the dishwasher by sense of touch. Make your toast by sense of touch and sound and smell. Take your shower in the dark. See if you can walk out to your car blindfolded (make sure someone is with you.) Notice your reactions.
27. Speak kindly to yourself.
Imagine you are your own best friend. Compliment yourself in the mirror. Sing your praises. Claim your gifts.
Habitual Pattern: Negative self-talk Inversion Practice: Positive self-talk Some of us are our own harshest critics. No one can sling judgment on us faster or more brutally than we can ourselves. A wise friend once told me, “Your unconscious mind doesn’t have a sense of humor. It believes everything you say about yourself.” What traits are you affirming in yourself? Take a day off from verbal self-flagellation. Today, all day, speak to yourself as if you were your very best friend. Take on the role of your champion and biggest fan. Go out of your way to appreciate how passionately you sang that song in the shower. Look at yourself in the mirror and appreciate your eyes or your legs. Verbally list out your gifts and express gratitude for them. Be grateful for your wisdom or compassion. Be kind to yourself.
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