Why Do Handstands Anyway!?
I got a few strained chuckles this morning as I proclaimed to my class, “Why would we want to do a handstand anyway!?” Did I mention the laughter was strained because they were all upside down against the wall doing their best to keep legs pointing to the sky, core engaged and arms strong.
Well this question definitely caused a domino effect of dropping to the floor and lots of laughter, but it’s a really good question to ask. Why do we do all these crazy yoga poses, and especially standing on our little hands. After all, haven’t we moved up on the evolutionary rung from quadruped to biped?!
Sure we might get stronger arms and shoulders and all the health benefits of inversions, but we could get that in other poses too. So what’s the point?
When we get past the Instagram handstand craze and selfies on the beach (guilty as charged), and bring handstands back into the classroom, there are actually so many reason we might throw ourselves into this unknown, uncomfortable, upside-down pose — and it’s got a lot more to do with how it makes us feel than how we look doing it.
The point is not the posture itself, the point is what it elicits from us.
For some people doing handstand brings up fear and doubt and reveals to them how to work past that with breath, focus and mindfulness. For others it releases their childlike, liberated nature and let’s them express it physically in a world where we are too often confined to desks, cars and limited expression.
For me handstands show me how well I’m focusing (or not), connecting to my centred and inner sense of calm. The point is, we are each learning different truths about ourselves and our tendencies from our asana practice.
Don’t mistake the method for the goal.
Our asana yoga practice undoubtedly keeps us strong and limber, but so can pilates or other workouts. What makes yoga different? For me it’s the intention behind the practice, the intention to connect inward and self reflect.
Too often we loose sight of that in the physical practice (especially in the modern social media obsessed world). The practice is the method, but not the goal. Handstand are just a vehicle to teach us about ourselves, but they don’t define us. And this is true for any posture.
We are driven by how we want to feel.
Whenever we do something is because we think it will make us feel a particular way. We might set the goal to do a handstand, but really we’re setting a goal to feel strong and liberated, focused in the face of the unknown and centred.
This is one reason I emphasis setting Identity based goals versus results based goals in my yoga lifestyle programs (read more).
It’s All About Self Study, Svadyaya
At it’s core yoga is about the practice of self reflection and overcoming the limitations of the mind. Self study is the fourth niyama, personal observances of the Yoga Sutras, called Svadyaya in Sanskrit.
Ask yourself what you’re learning about yourself during and after every practice and even if you’re doing the same old poses or sequence it will never get boring and you’ll always grow.
Ask yourself how you want to feel and if your practice is eliciting these feeling. From my decade of studying yoga and Ayurveda I’ve realised that it’s all about finding health and harmony through balance. Is your practice bringing you balance?
Deeply listening in each day, in each practice and making it a self study opportunity gives us the inner guidance to find balance and resolve blocks day by day as T.K.V. Desikachar so beautifully explains in the quote below.
“The fourth niyama is Svadhyaya. Sva means ‘self’ or ‘belonging to me.’ Adhyaya means ‘inquiry’ or ‘examination’; literally, ‘to get closer to something.’ Svadhyaya therefor means to get close to yourself, that is, to study yourself.
All learning, all reflection, all contact that helps you to learn more about yourself is Svadhyaya.
Svadhyaya is the process of gradually finding out where we are, who we are, what we are and so forth. Our asana (yoga) practice begins with precisely these questions. We take the first step by observing the breath and body. We do this over and over again, hoping that we will with time develop a deeper understanding of ourselves and our current state. In this way we also learn to recognise what our next steps will be.” T.K.V. Desikachar
Get my monthly newsletter.
Packed full of tips & resources, plus stay tunned for upcoming events, retreats and workshops.