Handstand is number one on my list of areas I’d like to improve within my yoga practice. To feel myself float into full handstand and hold it for more than 5 seconds will actually be a dream come true. And believe me, it WILL happen one day – all thanks to my amazing teacher. He has perfect posture without trying. He is open and accepting, playful and sweet. He has an amazing capacity for compassion and practices patience when it really counts. He’s relentlessly determined. In fact, he is such a good teacher, he doesn’t even realize he is dishing out lessons for free. He goes by the name Smith, and I may be biased because he is my 12-month-old son.
Until recently, a handstand didn’t seem accessible – and most certainly not without a wall to fall back on. On a typical day, while my two sons, Clinton (2 ½) and Smith (12 months) were ripping apart our train table track by track, I would be crouched in front of the only tiny piece of wall in our playroom that wasn’t crowded by toys and propel myself up. This happened day after day. I could get up there and stay on the wall, but nothing was really happening. Even after I had watched a hundred YouTube videos and I had asked all my instructors for tips, I wasn’t “flying” and I definitely wasn’t “floating.” I was trying my yogi-est to “enjoy the journey,” and still nothing. I was stagnant. Stuck in default. Uninspired, and going nowhere in a hurry. Until one magical day, something clicked. Enter Smith Domenic Mason.
Whenever I go to the wall, Smitty follows me. He gets a kick out of watching my efforts. He laughs and claps when I succeed. He laughs even harder when I fall. He pulls himself up on the wall making it difficult for me to maneuver while he waits for me to come down. He’s oblivious to the fact that I could possibly come down right on his little dream-puff head. One day I noticed him clinging to the wall, and he reached his little hands up to clap while standing on his own with a huge smile from ear to ear.
Right then and there it dawned on me. Smith (who was 10 months old at the time) and I were on the same journey! And Smith was having way more fun and gaining way more ground in his short little magical existence. WHAT was his secret?! I had to get to the bottom of it, so I observed him in his journey of mastering “walking” in hopes of changing my perspective on handstand. So far, it has WORKED. While I am not quite the floating Yogi of my dreams, I have definitely noticed a difference, and I definitely have a restored faith that I will get there. I can do frog hops and catch my hips from down dog without a wall, and my handstand overall has become more fluid. Well fluid may be exaggerating, but it is definitely more controlled. I can’t help to think that I owe it all to my own little Smith Domenic for his wisdom. How cool is that!
Below are my 5 tips for handstand taken directly from the master himself.
1. HAVE NO FEAR – Smithers may have a phobia of elevators, but when it comes to walking, he fears nothing! Falling is the last thing on his mind. He could care less about the surface he is on, how high he is to the ground, and even less about what anyone thinks of his Frankestein strut. In handstand, fear might be the first thing holding me back. Fear of falling and hurting myself, and let’s not forget fear of looking dumb. Smith’s lack thereof has encouraged me to trust that I can fall and be okay. I’m really not as fragile as I’d like to think. Also, is “looking dumb” even a thing at yoga? Letting go of this fear has allowed me to focus more on floating.
2. PRACTICE INSTANT FORGIVENESS – The minute Smith falls while trying to walk, is the same minute he lets go of said fall and moves on. It’s not even a thought. He doesn’t get down on himself. He just accepts it as par for the course and carries on. Often, he even laughs and has a big smile on his face. This is so important in a handstand because it forces you to be present and forget what just happened 2 minutes ago or yesterday simply because it is not important. Each try is a clean slate full of possibility, which is encouraging to say the least.
3. PUT IT ON REPEAT – If someone told me they’d give me a million dollars to guess how many times Smith has fallen in his journey to master the art of walking, well I just couldn’t. If someone asked me to ask how many times he’s gotten back up, my answer would be – every time, everyday. We learn by doing and doing often. So keep doing. As much as possible. Everyday. I try to sneak in a handstand whenever I can. Coincidentally, it is also a great energy booster and will wake you up from a long conference call in no time. I’ve even started a little diary in my phone to hold myself accountable AND track my progress. Yup I said it, PROGRESS.
4. TRY NEW THINGS – When it comes to walking, Smith’s curiosity is constantly propelling him to test new waters, try new things. He leaps from one piece of furniture to the next to keep his balance. He uses toy-shopping carts as walkers, and pretty much anything else. The other day I actually saw him scaling a wall (Ace Ventura style). 3 months into my observation, I noticed his latest triumph is that he doesn’t need a wall to stand on his own, which I took as a cue that I should probably do the same. This past week, I have officially moved myself away from the wall. In a way, it feels like I am starting over, and at the same time, I feel like I am growing because I am letting go of my attachment to the wall and my fear of falling. I have begun to trust my body and am opening to what is possible and available for me.
5. STOP THINKING – This has helped me the most. As soon as an idea comes into Smith’s little head, he does it. He is not thinking. He puts his sharp little eyes on something in front of him, and goes for it. I have noticed that whenever I have a breakthrough, I seem to be completely empty of thought. Easier said then done, clearing your head again and again with each attempt can make all the difference.
While we both have miles to go before we make that leap, Smitty and I continue to make progress in our efforts. Observing him has helped me change my perspective from being in a slump to being totally pumped with possibility and excitement. Even if he doesn’t get it now, he will when he is older. Either that or he’ll chalk it up to that weird Yoga stuff his mom does. For now, I’m savoring every minute and each little breakthrough while looking forward to floating one glorious day.
Is there something in your daily life that has changed your perspective to a much more positive one? If so, we want to hear about it!
Also by Johanna: 10 Hottest Yoga Pants for 2015
More inversion tips and yoga: Help! I Need Help with Inversions
Photo: Johanna Mason