I’ve been taking weekly yoga classes for many years. For the past several years I’ve been practicing with a teacher who occasionally encourages us to work on handstands.
I’ll just say it: Handstands are scary.
If you’re doing it against a wall, at least you know you won’t just go right over and whump down onto your back. But still.
The method I’ve been taught looks something like this:
With your hands on the floor a few inches from the wall, you extend one leg out behind you and use the other leg to push off the floor. Hopefully, you end up with two strong arms holding you upright and both legs straight up, heels against the wall.
At first, my left arm always wanted to collapse, and then I would just sort of flop over sideways without ever getting my feet very far off the floor. I’m not sure why. I think the arm was always strong enough, it just lacked willpower, or self-confidence, or something. Over time I managed to convince that arm not to fall down on the job, so once I was in a handstand I could stay up fairly easily. But I still couldn’t get into one without an assist from a partner.
The partner stands beside you and puts a hand under your extended leg. Once you kick off, the partner helps lift that leg up to the wall. The kick-off leg will usually come along for the ride. As long as your arms don’t collapse and you don’t completely freak out, there you are, in a handstand.
But there’s still something very disorienting and a little scary about going upside down. Weirdly, you don’t know where the wall is. How can you not know where the wall is when your heels are touching it? But you don’t. If the instructor tells you to move your butt closer to the wall, you’re like, which way is that?
I saw that one of the students in my yoga class could kick up into a handstand. And of course our instructor could glide effortlessly and gracefully into one. I envied that. I really, really wanted to do the same.
In class one Saturday morning last November, I had another student give me an assist into a handstand. When I came back down he said, “You know, I hardly had to push at all.” I thought, well then, maybe I can get up without help. I repeated what I’d just done, and… YES!!! My first unassisted handstand!
I went home and did three more handstands on my own. I felt I had finally nailed it.
But here’s the thing: Even after you’ve done a few handstands, you still don’t necessarily grasp exactly how you do it. It can be hard to picture in your mind exactly how your body is moving to get into that handstand position. And even after having done it successfully a number of times, the fear doesn’t all go away.
It does change, though. The fear. It’s no longer a fear of toppling over into a heap, because that just doesn’t happen anymore. Now it’s a fear of not being able to get up. Because that does still happen.
I thought that once I’d done a few handstands successfully I’d simply know how to do it and would be able to repeat it any time, any place. Not so.
It’s now been almost four months since that first handstand in yoga class. I’ve practiced handstands almost every day since then, and all told I’ve probably done 300 or so. Sometimes they come easily on my first try. Other times it takes two or three tries before I stick one: either I just don’t get all the way up, or I get up but my feet bounce off the wall and send me right back down again. Some days I tire out after three or four unsuccessful attempts and give up.
I realize at this point it’s almost completely mental. When I’m home alone, I can usually get into a good handstand on my first try. But if I’m at the gym, or in yoga class, where there are other people around, performance anxiety kicks in. Just the thought of attempting a handstand can get my heart racing, because I might not be able to get up. Even though I might be the only student in the room who is even attempting an unassisted handstand, I’m afraid of failing in front of them.
Clearly, I’ve got more work to do. And that work is not really about handstands at all.
But for what it’s worth, here I am doing one:
Cyndie forwarded me this video by “George Workout” that explains a completely different way of doing handstands. Now I want to learn this method!