Yes, handstands look super cool on Instagram.
Yes, they’re also good for you.
Yes, they seem super challenging.
Yes, they are for YOU!
Yes, it is ok if you never get into an unsupported one.
With so many yes(es), we normally start our answers with no. We are our own worst barrier to reaching new heights. No, you don’t have to do a handstand to “perfect” your yoga practice, but working towards it can teach you a whole lot. Very recently, like most things that begin to be beneficial for me, I quit (this time more like replaced) my handstand practice.
However, these past seven days, a practice I have actively detached from during the past few months, has serendipitously creeped back into my life. About a year ago when I built the strength and the propioception of where my pelvis needs to be in relation to my spine in this challenging inversion, I decided handstands every damn day till I get it “right”. I used this heavily instagrammed and “liked” pose to portray my not so correctly aligned asana and posed in front of beautiful monuments and landscapes. But quite honestly, in an effort to slow down my practice recently with meditation and Iyengar yoga, I’ve found myself in my other asanas for longer and deeper, but very distanced from these arm balances. Concentrating less energy to stand on my hands, but rather standing deeper and more grounded on my feet, my handstand inversions got kicked to the curb.
It wasn’t until last week, after the class I taught, very last minute I decided to take Molly’s STRONG class. I made sure to ask her what the class would entail and she did not mention a heavy focus on handstands, including twisted up in knots in Garudasana legs. I mean I have been meeting after class one on one with her and doing some fun one minute You Tube videos where she helps me get up to handstand.
But for a proper handstand class, one can expect a lot of sweating just to prep for it. For some reason, I have been avoiding the sweat of Vinyasa as Iyengar becomes a practice my body and mind is resonating with lately. Of course, I felt fantastic after leaving her class. Who doesn’t after an hour of dripping sweat to the point where it burns the eyes and you taste those salty drops, because you have no choice as they enter your mouth in some of the awkward inverted poses.
The same evening, I got an email from CodyApp inviting me to “The Inverted Life: Handstand Preps” with one of my favorite Vinyasa and handstand teachers and friend Briohny Smyth. Call it a sign, but I was totally free Thursday morning so I decided to RSVP to the taping. I have been to these once before with her husband Dice at YogaGlo and let me tell you, the lights and camera definitely do add a whole other level of heat and pressure. But today, for some reason it felt just right. Of course I was in a room of yogis of varying skills and I knew that I was going to be the guy who used the wall for support. I was totally comfortable with that, especially knowing that most of the people watching these at home will benefit to see someone who is being taped using support. I also knew that I might fall out of my handstands and would likely not be able to hold it for more than 5 seconds. What I love about Bri, is that, even though this was being filmed for an audience who would watch it at home, she made sure that we listened to our bodies. At no point, did I feel the necessity to look around, compare myself and possibly injure myself. Handstands are scary, but what I have learned in the past year is working with my body and taking it to some awkward places, I’ve learned so much about fears, habits and emotional baggage. I am never one to compare my practice with anyone else and I was so happy to get the renaissance I needed to bring my handstand practice back. After the class Bri came over and asked me how it was? I answered yes, hesitantly, knowing that there was a little tension at the beginning. Must’ve been the lights and camera. She had also noticed as she was trying to assist me, that my body was resistant. Thankfully, after the first assist, I did let go.
Also, just yesterday, I posted a handstand video on You Tube and got a few criticisms of where my head should be and how to correctly engage my core and how to stabilize my shoulder. Appreciating the feedback and knowing that my gaze was not ideal and the crown of my head was not parallel to the ground, I knew that I should bring the handstand back. Yes, my yoga practice can do without it, but it is quite exhilarating for me. It is my challenge. Someone even commented on how instagram handstands are all about backbends and not even portraying what a “real handstand should be”. But, you know what, this is where my practice is. I understand the dangers of instagram yoga photography and have written about that multiple times. But, if this is where my practice is, then this is where it is. Also, if those photos are inspiring people to pack their mat and go to their local studio or watch it at home to breath and move, then heck, that’s enough.
I ask my question again…”So, you want to handstand?”
If the answer is yes or a slightly yes, then damn it, get on your mat. Work with your chaturangas, your push ups, arm and core strength and slowly build up. Rome wasn’t build in a day and neither will your handstands. In fact, you might not get into a handstand ever, unsupported. But, what is wrong with that? I personally do not seek perfection in my practice. I rather have a slow progression and be able to assess where my body, breath and mind are each day I get on the mat. Don’t let anyone tell you what you’re doing is wrong. Because, if you are trying and going towards whatever it is, then at least you’re being proactive about it. And most importantly, let the judgement and expectations go. When that happens, you are practicing yoga.
With that said, Namaste.
P.S. Here are a few AcroYoga photos from intermission and post class and you can find some videos (will be erased in the next 24 hours) on my Snapchat: @PackYourMat