Hand Balancing, Surrender and Confessions of a Teacher

This is my journey. 2017 is the year of surrender and with that I intend to build strength. Those words seem polar to one another-- surrender and strength. But I have found that strength exists on the other side of surrender. 

Let me rewind for a moment. I recall sitting in my yoga medicine teacher training reviewing each asana and the "traditional yoga benefits" tied to each one. The headstand had a laundry list of benefits for the body, "said to be the King of all asanas, develops poise, lightness and stimulates brain, increase brain power, strengthens lungs to resist colds, widens horizons of spirit, one becomes balanced and self-reliant..." and the list continues. Then handstand, "builds strength, patience, confidence and focus." 

Immediately one of the teacher's raised his hand, "Why does the headstand have so many benefits but the handstand which is considerably harder have so little?" Tiffany Cruikshank, Yoga Medicine founder, essentially answered that ego would tell you that handstand is harder, but really practicing it makes you no "better" as a yogi than someone who does not practice it. That did not sit well with the teacher and he seemed more frustrated that the benefits were less. But it made me wonder is it strength that makes handstands harder? 

Arguable from an athletic coach standpoint I recognize the biomechanics of the body and would argue it's not that it is so much harder in terms of strength, but it requires a lot more surrender. Maybe you are scratching your head with that. How does it require more surrender? Well, for one it requires you shed the fear of lacking strength in your shoulder girdle, core, glutes, hamstrings, quads and calves. It also requires you surrender any preconceived notions that you lack the strength or that you are somehow anatomically disadvantaged in one sense of the word or another.

From a yoga student perspective my journey with the handstand made me address inadequacy I saw in myself. In fact, I could tell in a practice how confident I was feeling and how in touch with my body I was based on how I kicked up, jumped up or flipped myself into a handstand. What I learned? I'm inconsistent. I talk to athletes every day about consistency, but when it comes to practicing it myself I get a little ADD and jump around. In fact, that in and of itself told me more about myself and what I was struggling with-- fear of failure. It's easy to jump around from movement to movement and then complain about not getting it. It's a totally different story to stick with it, good, bad or ugly and make noticeable improvements. 

The fear of failure wasn't just an internalized struggle either, it is the working of years in fitness, wellness and yoga. Why? Because as a coach I have heard more times than I care to count that I wasn't fit enough, strong enough, or elite enough to fill a position at a gym or yoga studio. I was told repeatedly I was inadequate. Some events even felt that my lack of "showy movements" just wasn't enough to be "good enough." Talk about feeling inadequate. What if my athletes felt just as slighted that as their coach I wasn't doing straddle handstands off the side of a cliff or winning endurance event after endurance event standing on the podium to prove I am a great coach? Can you believe all of these thoughts came to me in handstands?

The point I am trying to make is that consistency is scary because it means facing failure. It means falling out of the handstand, maybe in the middle class, but it also means sticking the handstand. It means finding body control through mindful acts of movement through meditation. It means sticking with it, until you achieve it. 

As I work on my handstand journey I will share it with you.  Happy Hand Balancing and THRYVE ON.