I posted recently on Facebook that I had held my first handstand in the middle of the room. Clearly, I was excited, slightly overjoyed actually, that I finally accomplished this and felt the need to share. In the week following, I was surprised how many people asked me about it. Some people wanted to know “how" I had accomplished this while others wanted to share why they “couldn’t" perform a handstand.
I have been intrigued by handstands for decades. I used to try them when I was an adolescent, inspired by the gymnasts at the olympics who could lift up with control and hold the position for minutes on end. I never managed to stay up for longer than a nanosecond, and the ceremonious flop that always resulted never deterred me. Over and over again I would try, until I became bored and moved on to whatever I deemed more interesting. Eventually, my interests grew away from handstands, as I moved into running and lifting weights, focusing on more of an external strength rather than an internal one.
When I took up yoga in 2004, my fascination with handstands returned. I would watch with amazement as women in their 30s, 40s, and 50s would lift up in a controlled manner and hover with their feet in the air. I was fixated, and after building a consistent practice, I found myself throwing them in on occasion against the wall. There, I could work on refining the position, feet pressing up while supported, shoulder girdle finding the proper engagement.
And so this went for years. About a year ago, Kino MacGregor wrote a blog called “Let her fall," where she discussed her journey with Pincha Mayurasana. When she began working on that posture, she was weak and fearful. She realized that to build both the strength needed to conquer the pose and to overcome her fear of falling, she needed to get away from the wall and fall. For some reason, this resonated with me. Once a person knows how to fall and has the flexibility to go into a backbend, it’s really not a big deal to fall over. I had both of these things, and after figuring out how to do pincha mayurasana in the middle of the room, I moved on to handstand.
And fall I did, though not as spectacularly as I expected. There was frustration, as I figured out how much energy was needed to lift my legs up (I was used to purposely overshooting a little bit because the wall would catch me). There were the times I ended up in backbend, only to quickly lower myself down and try again. And then, just like I had always hoped to do, I found myself in it, not shaking, not unstable in any way, just holding. After five breaths (I didn’t want to press my luck), I slowly lowered down, only to realize my relationship with handstand is a lot like my relationship to life. Whenever there is a risk of failure, I explore my options at the wall first. Once I have gained the confidence that I know how to fall and not get hurt, I move to the middle of the room. Failure is really only a glorified backbend. As long as I can get back up and try again, it will all be okay.