It’s been almost three years. Three years of handstands.
When I first started yoga, I would not go upside down. I knew I could do it, but it just felt so silly. I’d often goof around with my kids and only a couple years earlier, before even finding yoga, I had done a headstand on Skype for my daughter and her college roommates.
So, it’s not that I was never silly. It’s just that I was never so in public. And the yoga studio counted as being in public.
Then, one day, it was just my daughter and me in a private lesson. In my mind, this was not public, so upside down I went.
And then, almost every day thereafter, I only wanted to be upside down.
Headstands led to forearm stands. Forearm stands led to handstands. I could not get enough and still can’t.
And now I can’t remember what there was to ever feel so silly about.
Now I say who cares about being upside down in public? It didn’t matter who was looking the other weekend in New York City on a crowded Sunday afternoon in Battery Park!
About a year and a half in, I got pretty good at the balance.
I could stay up and up and up in handstand, and I felt like a pro.
But then, I received some new instruction about how to go up in the first place. I was supposed to go up by using my Bhandas, or my core. Kicking up was off the list. Being near the wall was off the list. It was like starting brand new.
And it felt a little silly to suddenly be back at square one after all this time, and I am so far from whatever a pro might be that it’s silly to even think that could be measured.
In fact, one girl videotaped the class so she could take it with her on her travels and captured one of my few handstands that have actually worked in all this time.
I placed my hands under my shoulders. I listened to the instructor tell us to shift forward, to not bend our leg, to claw the floor with our fingertips.
One try. Two tries. Three, and then four.
On the fourth try, I felt my hips stack and my core engage while I lifted my leg ever so slowly, up and up and up from the floor to the ceiling. In my mind, I was up forever before standing to regroup and repeat.
But the camera doesn’t lie.
My fellow yogi put the clip of my handstand on YouTube, and I was up for all of five seconds. And my regrouping moment is really me unable to keep my amazement at bay as I stood up, quietly exclaiming, Yaaaaaaaahhhhhh! and not really knowing what to do with myself.
I learn best in a visual manner. I need to see things or draw them out in order to take them in. And this holds true with handstand. My yogi friends have become my teachers, and I watch their demonstrations, and I listen as the instructor’s words draw the picture of what I’m supposed to do.
And I’m literal, too. One instructor keeps talking about the shoulder girdle, but I was confused as to what that was. Plus, I keep picturing my grandmother in her blue dress when she says this. As a little girl, I knew a girdle was under there, and I was confused about that, too.
Another instructor talks about keeping the hands active, pressing into the fingertips if I think I’m going to fall over, and pressing into the palms if I think I’m going to fold. He shows me, but I tell him I need bigger hands.
And then there’s the fear factor. I’ve been told to play in the grass because there I’ll have no fear, and I’ve been shown how to best fall down so as not to be so scared to go up.
I’ve been told to integrate my shoulders, and it really helps to watch one of the yogis roll back her shoulders again and again as she demonstrates how this engages the upper body while inverting.
And now, after three years at handstands, I only just realized what might be one of the most important tips. Surprisingly, my arms escaped the list of parts I address when in the pose - my shoulders, my hands, my back, my core, my legs, my hips, my feet and my fear.
My arms are supposed to be straight!
I look to the pictures of my son and me in our handstands in the grass at Battery Park. He is on his way up, arms straight and strong. I have peaked with my arms bent, and I know I’m on my way down.
The other day, I was contemplating skipping my evening yoga class before the instructor posted a picture on Facebook with a shout-out to her evening students. There she was in handstand with her arms straight and strong.
I took one look and thought, I’d be silly to skip this!
And that night, I pulled my mat to the wall during handstand. I placed my hands under my shoulders with one leg up and shifted myself forward. Without further ado, I pushed my other leg off the ground, lifted my hips, integrated my shoulders and straightened my arms. I pressed into handstand without touching the wall, working my fingers and my palms.
And I was up and up and up. I did it once, and I did it again! My grandmother’s girdle didn’t even enter my mind, and the instructor snapped a photo.
The only thing that shouldn’t be in the photo, she later said, is that wall.
I took note but knew that the wall was not the only thing that had removed my fear.
That night, I had gathered all the generous encouragement, advice and support that have come my way and gratefully locked all of it up in my core. And then I felt it lift and secure me into my handstand and into the night and into the next day.
And there is nothing silly about that.