Squeeze Your Knees Like a Nun

Jul 1, 2015 by

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          I first attempted a pole invert on March 1. Even with Jeanie’s hands clasping my knees together and Matty, her crash mat, serving as my safety net, hanging upside down on a pole by only my legs made me nervous. Not scared. Just nervous.

          A couple days later, I inverted again with another instructor. In a well-intentioned attempt to prevent me from becoming reliant on mats, she pushed mine away from under me while I was upside down. Even though she held me by the knees like Jeanie had, unexpectedly seeing the floor below me while inverted for only the second time made me feel unsafe. I was terrified, physically shaking as she helped me back to the ground.

          My invert trembles went on until May, but I practiced anyway. Every time we were working on inverts in class, I went upside down. As you know, I have a thing about doing what I would do if I weren’t afraid. Therefore, my shaking motivated me to keep flipping my head back and under. I dreaded it every time, but I was confident that I’d become comfortable if I forced myself to do it regularly.

          “You should try beginner-intermediate,” one of my instructors suggested in early May, back before I had progressed to that level.

          “Am I at that level though?” I asked doubtfully.

          She nodded yes with certainty. “Can you hold your invert yet?”

          No, I nodded in reply.

          “You can,” she disputed. “You’re just terrified.”

          “I know,” I laughed. “I’m working on it.”

          “It’s not a strength thing with you,” she noted. “It’s a mental thing.”

          I was well aware. I could flip upside down in aerial without care, because I was confident that the straps wrapped around my wrists had me. I was not as confident in my legs’ grip on the pole, which is ironic given that my grip is deadly. Regardless, I was not letting my fear stop me. I continued to practice my pole invert (with spotters) and, despite not having it yet, I moved up to beginner-intermediate (Level 3), where I began working on inverted pole tricks. (Yeah, go figure that one. I was beginning to joke that I’d get my Gemini, an inverted outside leg hang, before I would comfortably dismount from a basic invert on my own.)

          At the end of May, while introducing me to the forearm climb, Jeanie lectured on the importance of squeezing my knees instead of my thighs.

          Out of habit and against her instructions, I continued to climb by tightening my upper legs.

          “Squeeze your knees like a nun!” she yelled.

          I threw my head back in laughter while partway up the pole. “Squeeze your knees like a nun,” I repeated as I giggled at the Jeanie-ism.

          She gave me similar advice as she spotted me into an invert later that class. “Squeeze your knees,” she reminded. “Nun reference.”

          “Oh my God, do I have it?” I asked as I felt her hands come away from my legs.

          “You’ve got it,” she confirmed.

          “This is me?” I responded in shock.

          “This is you. I’m not even holding you. Look, I’m walking away,” Jeanie said.

          “Oh my God, I’m sliding down by myself!” I shrieked in happiness.

          When my hands reached the floor, I lowered my legs into a plank to dismount.

          “That’s right. Fight through the pain,” Jeanie encouraged.

          “It actually doesn’t hurt so much anymore,” I said as my thighs slid down the pole to the floor with relative ease. “Jeanie, you’re amazing!” I exclaimed as I crawled up from the ground and threw my arms around her.

          The next day, the studio owner’s hands floated around my inverted legs in Jeanie’s place.

          “Maria, I feel like I’m your imaginary feather,” she said. “This is all you.”

          “Really?”

          “Yeah!”

          “Okay, but don’t go anywhere,” I told her as I prepared to dismount. “I really like that feather.”

          Clearly, my instructors’ spots had lost all practical purpose, serving only as mental comfort. Though I knew this, I wasn’t ready to give them up quite yet. Nonetheless, I was making feats: by the end of May, I had traded Matty for the floor.

          “Maria,” one of my pole friends said two Sundays ago, “you can invert! I’ve seen you invert. I’ve felt you invert.”

          “Yeah,” I laughed, “with a spot.”

          “With people’s hands hovering around you,” she mocked my definition of a spot, making me laugh harder.

          “I’m not comfortable yet,” I said, still giggling.

          “Stop saying that! You have it!”

          “I’m getting there,” I stubbornly corrected.

          “You are there!” she countered.

          She was right. Last night, I attempted to invert by myself. As per the video below, I nailed it – all of it: the lift, the grip, the dismount. Best of all, I was unafraid. That, friends, is why you have to do the things that scare you. The more you do what you’re afraid of, the less afraid you’ll be – not just of the fear at hand, but in general – and thus the more confident you’ll become in your ability to do anything.

Happiness Tip: Ask yourself what you would do if you weren’t afraid. And then do it.

 

 
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