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  • When I was six months old, my mother dropped me down a flight of stairs. It was an accident. The year was 1970, the Vietnam War was raging, she was wearing slippery Indian moccasins, which were in vogue at the time, and she fell down a flight of slate steps while carrying me on her hip. As she fell, my mother crushed half my body with her weight, breaking the femur of my right leg. When she realized what she'd done and saw me lying there immobile and not making the slightest sound, she evidently completely freaked out. The shock was necessarily delayed in reaching my vulnerable infant nervous system.

    Ever since the accident my mother was a nervous wreck who always watched me and my brother, who is 2 ½ years younger, like a hawk. She saw disasters everywhere waiting to happen: we would fall through the ice on the creek, we would drown in our next door neighbor's pool, we would be abducted on our bikes while riding through the woods and over to other secluded areas of the sprawling old farm we lived on. Needless to say, none of these nightmare scenarios played out as she predicted.

    She called me the family klutz, the fumbling clumsy one, though, and this rigid label unfortunately stuck. I kept falling down too. At 8 or 9 I busted my lip and nearly knocked out my front teeth while kneeling on a skateboard that my cousin's foot abruptly stopped. When I was 14 I had another skateboarding accident in our backyard. I fell on the concrete doing some stunt or other and broke my right ankle and fibula. I was in the tenth grade and amusingly made the front page of the high school newspaper since I was the first person to christen the building's new elevator. Then, some years later, at age 20, while spending my junior year at Oxford, I fell while running up the stone stairs leading to the college's library, where the handwritten pages of a difficult essay due for my tutorial later that afternoon awaited me scattered across one of the little private tables in the window. That time I fell directly on my nose and bit my tongue upon impact. Friends found me crying and with blood running down my face, which was swollen and grotesquely bruised for the entire following week. Needless to say, I got out of handing in my essay that day!

    Since leaving home some 20 years ago and inserting hundreds of miles between me and my mother, I haven't fallen once. My physical separation from her seems to have permanently broken this spell over me. However, the fear of falling stays latent in me, so I often take my time on stairs and escalators, holding the railing sometimes excessively cautiously or checking to assess the potential danger of falling before I take that first step up or down.

    It's probably no wonder that arm balances and inversions—particularly crow pose and handstand—are my favorite yoga poses. I'm unusually skilled at them and fierce in practicing them regularly. In these poses I literally face my fears head on without succumbing to the forces of gravity or the tiny voices that still haunt me.

    I am no longer the falling down girl.
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