Tip Tuesday is a weekly feature where I offer a few yoga tips that have worked for me in the hopes that they can help you too.
You know that yoga pose you love to hate? We all have them.
I hate handstand. It is probably the most challenging yoga pose for me. When I started doing yoga, handstand prep made my wrists sore and I couldn’t yet kick up to a handstand at the wall without help. Eventually I got to kicking up, but I think I’m on the lifetime plan for ever balancing without the wall. I get scared kicking up without a wall nearby. Even though I can do all sorts of advanced arm balances and seemingly harder poses, I still can’t balance more than a few seconds before toppling over. Maddening!
I used to dread having to do handstand in class. I would watch as several students in the class found their way up to handstand in the middle of the room and fume that I wasn’t one of them. Every plop down of my feet falling out of handstand seemed to drive home my defeat.
At a certain point, I realized that I could continue to dread handstand or I could set out to conquer it. Here’s a few steps for dealing with a dreaded pose:
1) Do it every time you practice yoga. Frustratingly, avoiding the pose doesn’t diminish the fear. My teacher Ana Forrest tells a story of being afraid of jumping off a high ledge into the water. The only way to deal with it was to jump off it, get back out, and jump off again. The fear didn’t go away, she relates, but it stopped having control over her. When you practice the pose every day, it loses more and more of its power over you. There’s no worry and dread about if you’re going to do it, because you know you are going to do it every time you’re on the mat. It gradually becomes another pose you do.
I made the commitment to try a handstand anytime I practiced, even if that meant just kicking up to handstand at the beginning or end of class. In my home practice, it’s become an automatic part of what I do. It still frustrates me to no end, but it hasn’t halted my determination
2) Breathe while you’re doing it. Really, not breathing when you’re trying to do anything just makes it infinitely harder.
3) Laugh about it. I now joke that I have mastered the art of flipping over into a backbend from a handstand for all the times my legs have unintentionally flipped over.
4) Congratulate yourself. Whatever the result is, take a moment to congratulate yourself for trying something difficult. Acknowledge that you’re facing up to a challenge. This is a tough thing to do. On the days when I’ve done nothing except fall over endlessly, it’s particularly hard to give myself anything more than disgust. But I try to remind myself that my power comes from continually getting back up and trying again.
5) Let go of the goal. Now that doesn’t mean stop trying. I’m certainly going to keep trying to balance in handstand and practice different techniques to do so. Letting go means that I don’t equate my skills as a yogi with whether or not I can do a handstand. I can admire another student balancing without oozing with envy and self-frustration (ok, most of the time…) When I focus more on what I’ve found to like about handstand (how it brings my energy up), I find I judge myself less when I try the pose. Ironically enough, the times I’ve done handstand while talking to someone or not thinking about it as much have been the times I’ve managed to hold the pose the longest.
I invite you to try these techniques for that dreaded pose of yours. I’ll be right there with you, kicking up. Again. And again.