Handstand and Humble Pie

May 17, 2011 / Aaron

Some of you have witnessed my battle first-hand. You've come to class a few minutes early, seen me inches from the wall, my legs flailing behind me, feet thudding like elephants, my face red and puffy and hair standing on end.

Apologies, ladies and gentlemen, for my glamourous attempt at handstand. And believe it or not, it used to be even uglier. And all that beautiful-ugly has given me a lot to think about, as I begin class too tired to chaturanga, too winded to get my ujayi on.

Because, if handstand is one thing to me, it is HARD.

And if it's more than one thing, it's beautiful and shimmery and nearly unattainable and unnatural and graceful and defiant and strong and oh my GOD I want it so badly!

So. For the last several months, I've been coming early to class to take advantage of the wall. I've broken picture frames at home and slammed onto my back and shaken the entire downstairs with my donkey kicks. I started out afraid of hitting the wall, and just barely able to scissor my legs up to hip level. I tried donkey kicks and felt so ridiculous that I learned humility real quick. I'd lean forward onto my hands, bounce my right leg just above my hips, lift my left foot for a fraction of a second, and come back to earth. Again and again and again.

It took me almost five months before I could even kick up onto the wall. But when I did, when I felt myself suspended over my hands, flipping the world upside down, and --finally!--tapping my toes against the wall, I felt like I was flying. I literally gasped as I cocked one leg at a right angle, rocking myself back and forth against the wall. I felt light, yet solid, and strong.

... for about eight seconds. Then I piked back down and gasped for air, exhausted.

Repeat about a thousand times over the course of the next two months. When I first started kicking up, I only got into handstand once in about 10 kicks. Then it went to once every 8 kicks. Now, I can kick up pretty easily, about once every 3 kicks.

Handstand is a pretty arbitrary goal that I've set for myself, I realize. I even realize the irony of goal-setting in yoga. And yet, I love the way the world looks from upside down, from my toes on the wall, my elbows straight below me. I love the ache in my arms that creeps in even before class starts. I love the quiet smack of my feet on the floor behind me, the dull thud of them on the wall above me, the thud that gets quieter and quieter the longer I practice. Handstand reminds me that yoga is never over, it's never done, there is always something more. I've never worked so long on getting my body to do something. But I've spent almost a year working on this, and this is just the beginning. Once I kick up every time, I'll work on floating up. Then I'll work on coming off the wall. Then looking between my hands. There is no end, and we're all going in the same direction. Or maybe we're not. I really don't know. But I'm pretty sure it's not about beginning or advanced or whether you practice twice a month or twice a day. I think it's about where you are, right now, and where you're going, someday. And the way you choose to get there, whether it's sweating quietly or grunting loudly or giggling your way through your vinyasas in class, at the beach, in your living room. And it's about loving the view.

For me, I love the view from upside down. Even if I have to kick a thousand times to get it.