I was completely uncoordinated and inflexible as a kid. (See my Calamity Jane Inklings #1 :) ) I was the one in the ballet class who couldn’t reach past my knees. I had this huge sway back and there was no way I could ever tuck my tushie enough to please my teachers. I remember eyeing my tall, flexible, and lithe classmates. Erg! It felt hopeless!
And don’t get me started on the fitness tests they did in school! Did you ever have to do that test in gym class called the sit and reach? There you are with your legs stretched right out in front of you and you are expected to reach way beyond your feet!! Agh! I felt like a T-Rex! I would wave my fingers at my toes.
I fell into an assumption during those school years, that you either had it or you didn’t. Baby, you were born flexible or not! After those embarrassing moments in gym and ballet, I felt that I was just not made of the right stuff and destined to be inflexible.
Then in college, I discovered yoga. I found that there are paths to follow and wonderful sequences that will help you to unlock a stiff and tight body. And if you do this practice with consistency you can see great changes in your body!!! You will also experience changes in the way you look at yourself and the world around you.
I wish I could go back in time to that frustrated and sad little girl that I was in ballet class. With a big hug I would whisper words of hope. I would tell her that we all have our own adventure to go on. There are some things that we are naturally drawn towards and find great ease doing and there are those things which challenge us. The greatest combination is when our heart is filled with love for those challenging things. This gives us purpose and direction. It takes great effort on our part to pursue these challenges and the little triumphs we make along the way give us great satisfaction.
So standing on your hands may not come so naturally, it didn't for me. But if you have a great desire to learn about this exhilarating pose it will take some wisdom, perseverance, and practice. All the pieces along the way will create a patchwork quilt of excitement and frustrations. At some point you'll look back on your practice and touch these pieces of the quilt so to speak. You'll remember that this one here, this is when softening between your shoulder blades finally clicked. Oh, and this one over here, this is when you felt the strength in your inner thighs. Ah, and my favorite - getting past the fear and disbelief, with a stronger core there was a lightness and freedom that came into each hop.
Will it Work?
Here's the thing, it comes down to going for it. We never know if it's going to work for us or not in the beginning. We find teachers and traditions. We trust and we take in their wisdom. We digest it, make it our own, and test it out. It's about recognizing the potential within yourself, nurturing it, and sharing it to help others.
"Take risks. If you win you'll be happy. If you lose you will be wise."
Why share a pose like handstand? Primarily because I keep getting asked to share more about this pose. And also because this will get you out of your comfort zone. This is where we will really grow. If we’re always comfortable, why change?
So put on your big kid yoga pants and get ready to PLAY!
Food for Thought
For me a big component of yoga is that it’s more than just a physical practice. The mind and spirit have a say in this experience. There will be psychological aspects of doing a handstand that we will have to say hello to - hello, my bum is too big to ever get over my head. My arms are not strong enough. I’m too old. I’m too young. One of my most influential teachers shared with me her most limiting belief - because she had only seen men balance in handstand and never a woman, she believed that she as a woman would never be able to balance without a wall. She proved herself wrong at age 50. We can think some pretty powerful thoughts about ourselves. How do those thoughts affect our actions? What are we thinking?
Feelings, nothing more than Feelings
Emotions are sure to come up, you can count on that. We need to say hello to fear. And remember fear is not our enemy. It can be a really useful ally. Listen to your instincts and recognize when you're just telling yourself a story ("I'm too old, my bum's too big.") versus an inner knowing that it's time to take a break and pause.
You are on your own journey that has its unique rhythm. There is something to be said for timing - don't force things. And most importantly play and have fun along the way!
5 Handstand Tips from Irena
Handstand Tip #1
You need to be strong and sensitive. Without the strength it's hard to hold yourself, without the sensitivity, balance and kicking up become elusive.
1. Set a strong foundation.
2. Hands shoulder distance wide.
3. Creases of the wrist parallel to top of mat.
4. Strong and steady arms.
5. Soften between shoulder blades.
6. Settle the arms into the shoulder sockets and bring shoulder blades flat on the back.
Handstand Tip #2
You need awareness and precision. Being present and mindful in the way you align your hips will make a huge difference. Rather than just throwing yourself into a pose, you take care to align yourself and visualize where it is that you wish to go. It's not about flipping your feet over your head, it's about tapping into the power of your thighs. Work on keeping those hips square.
1. Start in Downward Facing Dog.
2. Lift one leg.
3. Avoid lifting your back leg so high that you lift one hip and drop the other. (Like the pic on the left)
4. Like the picture on the right, keep your hips square.
5. A great trick is to do this at the wall, and place the ball of the lifted leg's foot on the wall.
6. Challenge yourself and hold this 3 legged, squared hip dog for 30 seconds to a minute at the wall.
7. Do both sides!
Handstand Tip #3
It takes courage to do a handstand. This pose is not for the faint of heart. We must develop our core and dive deep to find an internal strength. With discipline we will cultivate a connection with our core and find the courage to see the world from a new vantage point - upside down in handstand.
1. Start in Downward Facing Dog.
2. Lift one leg. Keep your hips square/level as you do this.
3. Draw that lifted leg's knee in towards your nose.
4. Notice that I shift my shoulders over my wrists as I draw the knee in.
5. For this movement, draw your belly in and up, rounding the back.
6. Challenge yourself and do this 5 times for each leg.
Handstand Tip #4
There will be effort involved. If you want something in your life, you must actively pursue it. When life just happens to you, it's easy to feel like a victim. We have free will and the ability to shape our life experiences. We don't control events but we can choose how we respond to what life is offering to us. Buckle up! Here we go!
1. After practicing tips 1-3 you'll be ready for this!
2. With strong, unbending, steadfast arms - step your right foot forward.
3. Notice my shoulders are over my wrists, I am looking between my hands, and my shoulder blades are flat on my back (i.e. No rounded back)
4. Lift A STRAIGHT left leg a few inches off the floor.
5. The bent right leg will be your powerhouse.
6. This is the crucial key: your bent right leg is what you will push from and the straight left leg will steer you, like the rudder on a ship.
7. Start to hop on the right foot. Keeping the left leg straight and the hips square. You may only a hop a cm off the ground. Awesome! This is where you begin.
8. Hop at least 5 times on this side. Then switch sides.
9. You're AWESOME! Keep on trying! A little bit every day adds up to a whole lot by the year's end.
Handstand Tip #5
I can get by with a little help from my friends, as the Beatles might say. This pose - upside down box - is much more comforting to do with a friend's help. I highly suggest that you have a spotter and do not try this pose alone the first time. There are ways to assist and I will share there them with you in future posts.
Upside Down Box comes into our practice after we have established the first 4 tips into our routine. We feel that we can keep our shoulder blades flat on our backs and our arms feel strong from the 3 legged dog practice. Our bellies and backs can engage when we're upside down thanks to the knee to nose pose. We have gotten used to bearing weight on our arms from hopping on one leg.
When we feel steady in the first 4 tips, then we proceed.
Sit with your back against the wall.
Measure a leg's distance from the wall.
Place the center of your palms where your heels were resting.
Set up in table - strong arms, soften between shoulder blades (Tip #1).
Like Tip #2, lift your right leg and place the ball of the foot on the wall.
Lift your left leg up and place the ball of the foot on the wall.
The intention is to have your feet at hip height and your hips, shoulders, and wrists to line up.
There are modifications to this pose that I will share in future posts. Please note, that in the beginning it is easier if your hands are a few inches in front of your shoulders and your feet higher than your hips.
There you have it! My top 5 tips for Handstand Pose. Let me know in the comments below how they work in your practice. Did one tip really click for you? If you have a friend nearby, snap a picture and share it with me :) I would love to see your practice.
Keep on yoga-ing!