Tuesday, December 15, 2015

In Which I Achieve 87% of a Handstand

I've never been able to do handstands. Gymnastics in general--not my forte. That's pretty much okay with me; we all have our weaknesses, and heaven knows there are still gobs of activities I haven't even tried. It turns out I'm not very good at pottery, either--though my husband is brilliant at it--but when I took a three-day class in watercolor painting last summer I was surprised at how much it made sense to me. Chemistry? Easy. Physics? impossible. I can play the piano but can't make noise come out of a trumpet. As for yoga, I can sit in Cobbler's Pose with my knees on the floor all day long, and I've achieved Crow, to my infinite delight, but Wheel remains way out of reach. And so it was with handstands.

Last Friday (Power Yoga with Adriel) we spent a few minutes working on handstands in the traditional manner: put your mat alongside the wall, put your hands on the floor, kick your legs up so that they go past the vertical--over your head--and rest against the wall. The problem is, you've got to believe that you've developed enough shoulder strength to carry it off. Because if you turn out not to be quite ready for this pose, your arms might buckle and you'd be diving head-first into a concrete block wall, probably breaking both elbows on the way. You can see how this could happen, and, if you're me, it keeps you from being able to fling yourself into the pose. Sometimes fear is our brain's way of letting our bodies know that we're about to do something really, really stupid.

You can put yourself into down-dog and sort of hop your feet up, but the truth is you won't get to handstand without enthusiasm. In horseback riding we say, "Throw your heart over the fence, and the horse will follow." I could not throw my heart into a handstand.

This had been true for awhile. I don't like being afraid. I've long recognized that many of the best things in my life have come about when I was willing to blindly hurl myself into new experiences. (Writing novels--learning to ride--travelling to Africa--) Hard to know what could come from a handstand, but my perpetual hesitancy was beginning to grate.

Yesterday (Warm Vinyasa) our instructor, Marcy, said we were going to play with something fun. "Mats against the walls!" she said. Then she led us through a series--first Down Dog against the wall, so that our heels were propped on the baseboards, and our toes on the mat. (Hands are on the mat, head down, hips raised, if you don't know what I mean by Down Dog). Then we put blocks against the wall, and did Down Dog with our toes on the blocks, our heels on the wall. Then we moved one leg up the wall.

Then we took a break, because this makes your wrists ache after awhile. Also shoulders. But all of a sudden I got where Marcy was going with it. Down Dog with feet on blocks, against the wall, and then both feet walking up the wall, and then there we were, in handstands, with our toes still gently against the wall, climbing into the pose from the opposite direction, never having had to make that scary jump.

I took one leg off the wall and held it straight in the air. I couldn't quite do the other. I figure it was 87% of a handstand, which is at least 37% percent closer than I've ever been before. My feeling of accomplishment is out of all proportion to the actual endeavor, and I don't care. Yesterday morning I was a yoga rock star.

Today I woke to an email from Marcy reminding me to set my intentions for the coming new year. Here ya go, Marcy: I'm going to do 100% of a handstand before I turn 49 years old. And also, thanks.