So what is it with handstands?

So what is it with handstands?

Courtesy of Alan Brim

Alan Brim, Berlin

When I think about handstands I just want to do them.  I can confess that I have and continue to dream about them.  If you are expecting a series of instructions to the art of doing the perfect handstand think again, this is more an ongoing dialogue as to why I, like so many others are completely fixated by them.

My handstand journey started when I was about 6 or 7 years old, where I was doing them against the wall outside the girls toilets.  Then fast forward about 20 years to a Mysore style class where ‘ardho mukha vrksasana’ translated from Sanskrit as downward facing tree pose was presented to me as part of the closing Ashtanga Vinyasa sequences.

Years later in 2006, when signing up to an AcroYoga teacher training; I began seriously working on my handstands.  I can safely say its still an on going work in progress.  Press handstands are a possibility some days and one handed is still very much a distant dream.

Max Stewart, Bondi Beach

Max Stewart, Bondi Beach

Its a question of fear

I distinctly remember as a child the fearlessness of doing handstands, so long as there was a wall to do them on.  I think doing them has the proven ability to revert you back to the kid that is hidden deep in all of us.    As adults we unintentionally become fearful.

As adults its perfectly normal to have some fears when doing handstands.  The most common such concerns are: –

  • being scared of falling on your face;
  • that you don’t have the strength to hold your on body weight on your hands;
  • being upside down is an alien concept and
  • the fear that you can not do it.

At this point it is worth acknowledging now that handstands do require a combination of strength, flexibility and balance.  Doing them engages the whole body, from the fingers, wrists, elbows to the shoulders, belly and bottom all the way to the legs, feet and toes.  Its working every thing including the ability to focus and be present.  Put it another way, whilst in handstand I rarely think about anything else other than trying to stay there balancing profusely with my fingers and occasionally forgetting to breath.

Being able to do handstands does take time.  Putting it in perspective we have all spent the first years of our lives, with constant encouragement from our family, building up the strength and coordination to be able to sit up, stand and or walk.  There after we spend most of our lives upright, sitting or standing and if we are resting horizontal, yet we rarely consciously spend time upside down.

Courtesy of Max Stewart, Wal Balmus & Alf Stanbrough

Max Stewart, Wal Balmus & Alf Stanbrough, Bondi Beach

Now if we had the same amount of time, dedication and support to stand on our hands then we would all be doing them.  Not only that we would learn that there are endless variations to inversions and hand balancing.  The possibilities of handstands and hand balancing is far ranging.  Not only can you do them on the floor, but on canes, on another person’s hand(s), feet or body part(s).  There is also the range of shapes and leg variations that can be achieved on your hands.  Its all pretty limitless.

So what is the draw with handstands?

Well there are several the most obvious is that they just look so cool.  In doing them I am able to go back to when I was a kid and tap into that fearlessness of youth, there by challenging both the fear of falling and the fact that “I can” rather than “I can’t”.

I have learnt to enjoy being upside down, to play with the laws of gravity.  For those of you out there into physiology there are numerous benefits to being upside down which include: –

  • relieving the vein pressure in the feet and legs;
  • pumping oxygen rich blood to the brain; and
  • stimulating the endocrine (hormone) system that can encourage emotional well being.
Courtesy of Jasper Herman, Wybren Wouda & Jan Felix

Jasper Herman, Wybren Wouda & Jan Felix, Reichenow

I actually like the blood rush I get to the head after an inversion, its a natural high and its free.  I guess the feeling is not to everyones taste.  There is also the accomplished strength capacity to be able to carry one’s own body weight on your hands.  Finally, there is that priceless feeling when I find the sweet spot in balancing a handstand, that sense of ease, where everything is stacked and aligned and usually, in my case, it requires a reminder to suck my belly in and extend out of my shoulders.  As I said its work in progress.

To see some handstand craziness click here.