Yoga and Philosophy

Chasing the Handstand

Yep, I'm one of those yogis chasing the handstand. But it isn't even about the handstand anymore. It's everything that chasing the handstand does for me. What pose are you chasing?

Like many aspiring yogis, I want to do a handstand. It’s not the end all be all of my practice, but I want to do it. I’ll be a happy yogi forever if I never get there, but I want to get there. The thing about the handstand at this point is the effort.

I’ve been chasing the handstand for a few years now. Okay, five years. I’ve worked on it on and off for five years. Splits too, but mostly the handstand. At times I made it a part of my leg transitions. Instead of down dog to plank to chatarunga to up dog and back to down dog before switching legs in a given routine, I’d slip a “kick up” after down dog instead of plank. I’d try to kick up to a handstand and always end up landing the foot on the mirror, but at least I’d try it. It took a long time just to get to the point where my foot would touch the mirror behind me. Still, five years later, I’m kicking up to that mirror and I’m trying to balance and I’m switching legs in mid-air and my arms are usually killing me.

Even though I’m still chasing the handstand, I’ve come to realize that it’s not about the handstand and I wonder sometimes if it ever really was. I read Namaslay last year and Candance Moore mentions that a lot of people set the handstand as a goal. Everyone wants to do it. In the yoga instructor course I took shortly after reading Namaslay, my instructor also mentioned the common obsession with the handstand and even splits. I thought about it a lot shortly after those two experiences had come so close together. The thing is, the handstand is aspirational.

I don’t know about other people, but I need something to aspire to. I need to be chasing something in order to be right with the world. I’m an INFP and my enneagram number is 9 for union, but it just isn’t worth getting out of bed in the morning if I’m not growing somehow. It doesn’t usually matter how, but I have to try to move the mark a little every day and yoga gives me that in ways no other form of exercise can and in a way that is within my control.

I had been doing yoga for a while when I ran into a class that focused on different parts of the body per session rather than do full body yoga each time. It was designed so that one took the how-to classes and helped build to the advanced classes for those of us that it wasn’t usually accessible for. It was more work out than yoga until you could get into the more advanced poses and students were encouraged to attend the beginner and intermediate classes as well. I fell in love with it. I was finally learning how to do some of the more challenging poses and it gave me a basis to start learning the handstand for the first time.

And then I had to leave that area and that class and my progress stalled and then I had a few starts and stops since then and I’ve never really been able to do a handstand. Maybe I will one day. Maybe I won’t. Either way, I’ll strive and try and it will bring me back to the mat. The work to get there will continue to help me get to my best savasanas. I’ve gotten stronger each time I’ve had the opportunity to focus on it along the way. I’ll continue to get stronger every time I get a chance to strive toward it without the long interruptions that life has been throwing my way lately.

On a spiritual level, the chase is even more important. It’s a chase that I can do just for me. It’s the one thing that I can strive for that I am the only person that can hold me from that goal. With all the other things in my life that I cannot control, I can control the effort it takes to kick my foot up that wall and how many times I try to switch legs in midair. I can decide whether or not today is a day to try to reach for something I’ve never had before.

Some days I try again and some days I do prep exercises and some days my arms and hands are tired enough. On all of those days, it’s up to me alone. What that means to my life and the balance and the control and the surrender and the resistance and the flexibility in it is this:

I control whether or not to try today.

I surrender the need for a perfect pose as soon as my legs are in the air.

I resist the pull of gravity and the desire to rest on the wall.

I flex my core when I’ve chosen to bring my feet back to the floor and finish my practice.

My need for the handstand these days has relatively little to do with the handstand. It’s the thing in my practice that reminds me that some progress is slow, no matter how hard I work at it. Some things may never happen. Sometimes it’s not up to me or it’s too late for me. Sometimes the best thing I can do is accept that someone else (like the wall) is going to do some of the work for me or with me.

When people like me say things like yoga is life, it’s because every pose has the potential to remind of us of some life lesson that we aren’t thinking about today. For me, a lot of life boils down to this:

Control the effort. Surrender to the outcome. Resist the desire to rest. Flex when you choose to.

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