I have had a long love/hate relationship with handstand. For years it was the pose I most dreaded in a public class. I always seemed to know exactly when my teacher was going to call it out and I always had the same response: a wince, a roll of the eyes, and a whispered ‘aw, man, here we go again’. I spent so much time flailing around in this pose, tossing one leg up in the air while the other acted as a dead weight pulling my torso back to the ground. I worked on it at home, I tried doing ‘L -pose’ at the wall, strengthening my arms and shoulders, stretching my hamstrings, turning my hands out so my shoulders would open more, looking down, looking forward, you name it. I would ask different teachers for tips and hints at how to get myself over this hurdle, this ugly dreaded thing that became a huge mountain to climb. I wanted so desperately to spring up onto my palms, legs light as a feather, feet lightly touching the wall as they rose above my head with grace, just like all the other students in the classroom were doing. Why am I the only one not getting up? At least that’s how it felt.
One day in class I was futilely kicking up with one leg, as per usual, and my teacher said “I bet Manouso (a senior Iyengar teacher) can get you up into handstand,” and I thought, you’re probably right. He’s not someone you want to disappoint in class. So sure enough, a week later I’m in Manouso’s class and he yells out adho mukha vrksasana. CRAP! My first instinct was to quietly exit the room for a pretend bathroom break. But my true desire to finally capture this pose won me over and I diligently went to the wall with my mat and set up for the pose. I kicked up once and nothing happened. I kicked up again and that’s when I felt it – that feeling of ‘ah-ha, I almost did it!’ I was a breath away from getting both feet to the wall. I don’t know exactly what happened but it was as if all this time I wasn’t using my second leg, and in that moment my second leg came to life and sprung up to meet the other one – ALMOST! Woohoo, I felt brilliant! I didn’t get up, but I captured that feeling that made me know I could get up in the very near future. It was like a high. I don’t necessarily think it had everything to do with being in Manouso’s class, but maybe the desire to want to do it properly in his class was just the effort I needed.
The very next day I rolled out my mat in my home office, did a few hamstring stretches, and took myself over to the wall. One kick, then two kicks, voila, I was up! I could hardly believe it. I thought I might come tumbling down from the sheer shock of it. I came down and immediately tried again. It took a couple of kicks but I made it up again. But of course my wrist was starting to complain so I couldn’t hold the pose for very long. For the next few weeks I was scared to death that the pose would leave me, that if I didn’t test myself over and over again it would vanish and become like a dream. After a few months I started to take it for granted that yes, now I had finally conquered it, it would not leave me because I had finally mastered the kick-up, I too could confidently stride over to the wall in my public classes and pop up into handstand whenever my teacher called upon us to do so. Maybe not on the first kick, but absolutely by kick #3.
So here we are, nearly a year later, and my handstand practice has fallen by the wayside as I move on to other challenges put upon me by teacher training. I have specific sequences that I’m required to practice on a regular basis and they don’t include handstand. I’ve let go of my constant investigation of that pose because I have other problematic areas like getting my buttocks to drop in viparita karani or understanding and mastering the four-block ‘fort’ set up for sirsasana. I was in Carrie Owerko’s workshop a few weeks back and she instructed us to move to the wall for inversions. First we were to do several rounds of handstand. I kicked once – no go. I kicked twice – no go. I kicked a third time – no go. Holy crap, I’ve lost it. And with that, I lost some of my confidence in general for inversions. Over and over I tried until I was a sweaty, exhausted lump. Next up was pincamayurasana. My shoulders were so burnt out from all the previous work of the day that I could hardly hold the prep pose, let alone the final one. Same again – kicked up a few times and nothing happened. What the heck is going on here? I love this pose, I practiced it regularly, I should not be having this problem. More confidence slipping away. I finished the workshop and left the studio feeling uplifted for having had such a great experience with Carrie, but terrified that my inversions had fallen apart completely. Even my headstand seemed weak and unsure.
The next day I decided to put a handstand into my home practice. Needed to get back on the horse right away otherwise some serious damage might be done. After a few tries, I made it up, but my wrist felt weak and my shoulders were still screaming from the previous day’s workshop. I came down, deflated and worried. It’s been a slow decline since then. Over the last month, for one reason or another, I haven’t practiced handstand and when I decided yesterday in my home practice to do all the inversions I could muster, handstand was not attainable. I am sad to say it has left me, at least for the time being. It’s a really good lesson for me. Reminding me not to get arrogant with my practice, thinking that once I’ve gotten to a desired place with an asana that it will just be mine from now on. Every day is a new day and every day I am a different person on my mat. I’ve heard that said many times but now I really see how true that is. In class today my teacher said that practicing at a deeper level takes humility. Because you have to throw away everything you know about that pose and come at it fresh again with new eyes and new awareness. You have to be willing to give up what you think you know about that pose and allow yourself to completely re-learn how you go into it and what actions you take. This really struck a chord with me. Obviously I have to put handstand back into my practice regularly and at the same time I have to let it go, not be attached to it and how it makes me feel when I can and can’t do it. It’s just amazing the things you learn about yourself from this practice each and every day if you really listen to it.
Once again I’m back to chasing this pose.