Handstands: from Fear to Pleasure

I have long felt afraid when kicking up into a handstand. I’m not sure why because I actually like being upside down and I’m fine once I’m up. It’s the getting there that makes me nervous.

When I trained with Jay Jones, one of my Yoga mentors, she spotted me one day practicing handstands against a wall. After a few minutes, I stepped back, looked at the wall, and said, “Why does this scare me?” Jay very sensibly replied, “Who cares? People are afraid of things. Do it a few times. You won’t be dead and you won’t be scared any more.” I kept at it and made some progress until I moved away and fell out of the habit of practicing.

When Jaimen introduced handstands at a Spacial Dynamics training, we spent a lot of preparatory time connecting with the line of gravity, the vertical axis. He called them “Foot Ups,” saying that the idea is to place your hands on the ground and kick your feet up to the vertical line. He did a beautiful job of clarifying it as an action of pouring the body weight into the hands and then pouring it back into the feet — very much like a slinky.

I committed to get this. I had learned to juggle after a previous Spacial Dynamics segment. Surely I could acquire handstands with frequent experiments and a little awareness. I decided there was no rush. I still found them scary so for the first few days I didn’t even try to get up all the way. I was content to put my hands on the floor, get both feet in the air and not be dead. I would try a few times and stop as soon as my arms reported fatigue.

Gradually, I began to enjoy and look forward to these baby attempts. As I gained confidence, I began to kick all the way up. They weren’t elegant — great kicks that crashed into the wall. But I was up on my own and I wasn’t dead. This allowed me to pay attention to details and experiment with variations. Where were my eyes looking? What if I continued to breathe?

I noticed that my abdominal muscles were inactive, just along for the ride. When I began to engage them the way Jean Couch and Karen Engler of the Balance Center had taught me, my handstands were transformed. I no longer collided with the wall. Instead, the kick-up became more elegant with just a light reference tap on the wall. With the abs as an active and contributing team member, I began to connect with the line of gravity — to be able to take both feet off the wall and hang in the vertical for a glorious moment or two. I also found that clearly connecting with the vertical in an upside down way resulted in a new sense of lightness and ease when I was rightside up again. How’s that for a bonus: learn to stand on your hands and improve standing on your feet!

I’m not skilled enough yet to run away with the circus. But I’m also not dead and I actively look forward to and enjoy practicing. No telling where that combination can lead.

What about you?

Ever scared by an activity?

Have you been able to shift it yet?

If so, how?

If not, any idea what the block is?

PS: If reading this has inspired you to try handstands, don’t go it alone. Please make your first attempts under the supervision of an experienced spotter.

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