Turning Upside Down--Handstands
Workshop this Saturday, July 11th, 1-3pm
Standing on your hands may be something you did when you were a child. Young and carefree, turning upside down was an act of play. Now, older and wiser, standing on your hands is scary. You could fall over. Your arms could buckle right beneath you. And, even if you did make it upside down, would you even be open to that perspective? The world looks quite different with your feet reaching towards the sky!
I’ve been practicing handstand since about 4 years old. As a young gymnast standing on my hands was something that came easy to me. I did not think about how or if I would get upside down. I just did it. I remember having the coaches use me as their “demo” to show new tricks we would be practicing. I was fearless and had an innate trust that my body would do whatever it was that I asked of it.
Because of my early training, the practice of yoga asana was a natural fit for me. I found a thrill and joy in contorting my body into different shapes, attempting to balance once again on my hands, and reconnecting with my body in a more conscious, adult way.
Although handstand has come easy to me, it has also been one of my biggest teachers. This is because being in the pose—body, mind and breath aligned, is no simple task. I can flip myself upside down and possibly have the good fortune of balancing just right to stay inverted for a few delicious moments. But, I have discovered another way that is rightfully much more satisfying and I would love to teach it to you.
One gift of practicing yoga asana is that it helps us connect to our body. The mind begins to expand within and consciousness awakens in every cell. As we start living in our body we experience greater ease in aligning our intention with our actions. What we say, do, think, and feel match one another more easily. Yoga off the mat happens effortlessly as the alignment found through our asana practice slowly anchors itself as primary and becomes our main way of being in the world.
Handstand is one of those poses that will challenge your degree of body-mind connection. Like all balance postures if the mind wanders away from the task at hand you will find yourself easily swayed out of alignment and most likely out of the pose. Add the complexity of going upside down to the equation and you have yourself a challenging asana sure to inspire growth on many levels.
There are several approaches to handstand. The steps outlined below will be explored more in-depth during my workshop this weekend along with several others.
1. Learn how to stand upright, in alignment with your core engaged before attempting to go upside down.
Many of us have compromised postures. We avoid standing in our center and either pull forward (recognized by the ribcage thrusting forward) or slouch backward (recognized by a sunken heart). Standing in a neutral or centered way can feel strange and extreme (if you normally thrust your ribs forward, standing in neutral may feel like you are slouching). When you go upside down you will be accompanied by your habitual posture and remain out of alignment. You might attain what appears to be handstand but your core will not be engaged properly and there will be a feeling of disconnect throughout the body. You will not realize this is the case at the time, unless there is pain—which always indicates something is out of alignment. You will only come to realize you were out of alignment when you have achieved greater alignment. You then have a point of reference. The feeling that accompanies true alignment, in any pose, is wholeness. When your mind expands throughout the body and you feel a sense of connection to your whole self—that is alignment.
2. Open the shoulders
Standing on your hands requires deep flexion in the shoulder joint. If your current range of motion does not allow you to accomplish this you are not ready to go all the way upside down. Again, you may attain the final pose if attempted, but in a compromised way. The wrist, elbows, and shoulders will struggle to be aligned and thus the rest of the body will not have a solid base of support to rise up out of. Injury could result. Here are some pre-requisites to full handstand:
1. Ability to hold downdog for at least 10 breaths without a lot of effort through the shoulders
2. Ability to hold ½ handstand (downdog with heels against the wall, walk your feet up the wall until legs are parallel to the floor) for at least 10 breaths without a lot of effort in the shoulders
To achieve effortlessness in the shoulders while in downdog and ½ handstand the core must play an active role. However, if your shoulders are not open enough your foundation will lack adequate support and even the strongest core will not do the job—so work those shoulder openers!
3. Clarify your intention: align your mind with your actions for manifestation
Wherever you are in your handstand endeavor create clarity around the small steps leading you to your final goal. An example of this can be (think, feel, and do):
1. Align your hands shoulder-width apart and spread your fingers wide
2. Focus your eyes on a point between the hands
3. Bend your right knee and kick off your right foot
4. Touch your left foot to the wall
5. Etc, etc, etc.
Each step brings you closer to your end goal, but at the same time, each step is an accomplishment in and of itself. Yoga is the outcome of the practice we do. When your intention is aligned with your actions in this way you remain in the moment. The more constant we are in the present the more in touch we become with what is real. Rather than living in the past or future we come to just be. In being we experience the truth of who we are.
I hope to see you this Saturday, July 11th, 1-3pm