Handstanding: because life’s better upside down. By Victoria Jackson
“I won’t teach handstand to anyone unless they can give me a good reason why they want to learn it”. I heard a teacher say this years ago and it really stuck with me not just as a comment on the popularity of inversions (thanks to social media), but as an interesting reflection on challenging asanas. Why do we want to do them? Do we think this is better yoga in some way, or are we just so acculturated to achieve more and more that we need a teacher’s encouragement to question our motives and desires?
When I began yoga I had no handstanding aspirations whatsoever. So I almost laughed in the face of this teacher, thinking I could never offer her any kind of reason I might want to handstand. In fact I avoided any class that looked as though it might turn me upside down. I was, quite honestly, full of fear. And I justified that fear to myself in various ways: I’m too old, I’m not strong enough, I have an old shoulder injury, I’ve just eaten, it’s that time of the month, wrong outfit, wrong phase of the moon… All the excuses in the book, with a few extras thrown in just to be sure.
But recently the whole handstanding thing has started to creep up on me. I can’t remember exactly how it began. Probably with an innocent little bunny hop one time, then a little encouragement from my teacher, and all of a sudden I could feel how this might work. I could feel how breath and bandhas and muscles and alignment could one day turn my world upside down. Or rather turn me upside down within my world. And I can tell you the prospect was suddenly more exciting than frightening. I felt a childish sense of adventure and joy. The idea of adults learning how to stand on their hands is on one level quite ridiculous. Who needs to be able to do that? But the yoga magic happened the way it often does and suddenly I realise I’ve begun ‘my journey to handstand’.
Now I’ve done some subtle re-arranging of furniture at home so that I have a place where I can kick up against the wall. It’s behind a door, so I have to be careful that no-one comes in suddenly and squashes me! Though there’s not really any fear of this – early attempts are so uncontrolled that the picture frames rattle, giving a clear message of what’s going on behind closed doors!
But I’m surprised by how much stronger and more controlled I am week by week. And much more than that I’m surprised by the answer I’d give now to that teacher’s question: I want to learn handstand just for the joy of it. It turns out handstand has already turned me upside down! I had thought I needed a serious reason: something deep and worthy about facing fear, overcoming obstacles, realising potential or some such. But, nope, it turns out my handstand isn’t about any of that. It’s simply that the attempt makes me laugh a lot at myself and at the world. Crazy handstand!
Victoria Jackson lives and teaches in Oxford. She is registered with Yoga Alliance Professionals as a vinyasa yoga teacher. Read more of Victoria’s OM Lite columns here.