What I Learned from Doing a Handstand Every Day for a Year

365 days
365 handstands (one each day)
365 pictures of yourself in handstand
tyedye

Just over 365 days ago, I started noticing a buzzing on Facebook from several Forrest Yogis taking pictures of themselves in handstands. The Forrest Yoga Handstand 365 (#fyhandstand365) challenge was presented. Your mission if you choose to accept it: Do a handstand every day for a year and take a picture of yourself in the handstand.

This caught my attention for a few reasons. For starters, I tend to be an intensity junkie, and a very stubborn person who doesn’t like the idea of backing down when challenge is thrown down. Plus I liked the idea of committing myself to do yoga every day – even if it is only a single pose.

Now handstand has always been my nemesis. I’ve worked on this pose for years, taking handstand workshops, trying different techniques, and falling endlessly. Despite all my efforts, I still couldn’t balance for more than a few seconds by the wall, much less balancing in the center of the room. It’s been infinitely frustrating to me that even though I can do many advanced yoga poses, I can’t seem to master handstand. Did I really want to voluntarily do this pose – a pose that brings up frustration and self-deprecation – every single day? For a year? And don’t even get me started on the picture part. But I also know what Ana Forrest says : “Never waste a trigger”.

I brought up the challenge to my friend Abbie, who’d also noticed the handstand Facebook action. “I’m kinda thinking of doing it”, I said. “Me too”, she said. “Do we want to do this?”

Later that day, Abbie sent me a picture of herself in handstand. “Day 1”, read the caption. It was on. I posted my first handstand picture that night.

And 364 more of them. One every day.

I didn’t really think the challenge would be much more than practicing handstand, and hopefully balancing by the end of the year. To my surprise, the challenge went way beyond the physical challenge. I learned a tremendous number of life lessons in the process, most of them completely unexpected.

Top 10 Things I Learned from Doing a Handstand Every Day for a Year

10. I am capable of making a commitment and sticking to doing it every day.

I could list all of the things I’ve told myself I should really do every day: yoga; meditating; writing in a journal, and the list goes on of things I’ve vowed to do every day. While I’ve had spurts of consistency with these resolutions, none of them ever became long-lasting habits. The fact that I committed to and did a handstand every single day proved to myself that I am capable of being consistent with a new behavior on a daily basis.

9. How to confront self-consciousness

I hate having my picture taken especially in a yoga pose. I’ve resisted having any yoga pictures taken of me, as many yoga teachers will do. I knew they’d never look anything remotely resembling the beautiful yoga shots I’d seen of others. What I liked about yoga was how much I didn’t think of how I looked while practicing, but rather, how good it made me feel. I worried that having to see my imperfections displayed on camera would ruin that experience.

Well, taking my picture every day wasn’t easy. I was extremely self-critical, insisting that my husband take another picture, or scrutinizing my pose in the mirror first. I compared my pictures to the other people doing the challenge. I cringed at how I looked in many of them.

But you know what? It stopped being as big of a deal. It was just something I did every day and I stopped caring as much. And I actually found that I liked some of the pictures. “Wow, that’s what I look like,” I thought. I even conceded that I did some impressive stuff in many of these pictures – the results of many years of practice.

8. With 365 handstands to do, you can get pretty creative.

The fun part of the challenge was it brought out my creative side. Finding a unique variation or location, or funny pose became a new challenge. I was always on the lookout for new places for my handstand of the day, or brainstorming ideas for the future. I went through themes: putting my legs in the shape of letters, using appropriate song lyrics as picture captions, and different colors. Connecting to my creativity and having a sense of humor in the process also helped get me out of my self-consciousness over having my picture taken.

7. I have more support than I realized.

I thought posting a picture of myself in a handstand every day would result in a lot less Facebook friends. What I didn’t anticipate was how supportive my friends on Facebook would be. Every day I’d get encouraging comments on my photos. Sometimes people would add a funny remark or let me know when they particularly liked a certain picture. It brought me together virtually with a lot of people, including many I don’t get to see that often. I don’t know if I could’ve done it without their encouragement. It was their support that gave touched my heart, gave me a laugh, and motivated me to find something fun to post for the next day.

Best of all was sometimes other people got in on the action! There were many guest stars in the handstand photos, with others also doing handstand or just involved behind the camera or suggesting an idea for the day’s handstand.

6. My challenge was inspiring to others.
In social situations throughout the year, it was common to have someone come up to me and ask me how the handstands were going. I’d forget how many people would actually see these on Facebook. “Wow, it’s really impressive”, several people told me. I’d blush and thank them, but thinking to myself, “I still can’t even balance in the pose. I’m supposed to be a yoga teacher. It’s really not impressive.”

But the kicker was when someone said: “You’re really an inspiration.” Now I really had a hard time letting that one sink in. Of all the things I’d describe myself as, inspirational would not be one of them. So it was a big step for me to take in that the discipline of doing something that was challenging for me every single day was inspiring. It wasn’t the handstands themselves, but the dedication and perseverance behind them. And me, yes, awkward me, was able to be an inspiration.

5. Doing a challenge with a partner keeps you accountable.

I definitely could not have done this challenge without my friend Abbie. We relied on each other for moral – and sometimes physical-support throughout our handstand endeavors. We’d frequently text back and forth: “Wait till you see my picture from today.” “This is really getting old.” “I have an idea for a handstand we can do today.” “Why did we decide to do this again?”

I knew that Abbie wasn’t going to give up before day 365, and that helped keep me on track not to give up either. There was no way I was letting down my handstand partner.

4. Getting over being perfect
The trap of being creative was then feeling like every single day my handstand needed to be interesting and creative. I learned to make peace with myself that not every day had to be an A+, inventive handstand. It was ok to have times where my handstand was just that – a handstand, nothing exciting. I noticed myself being gentler with myself in other aspects of my life. For example, I stopped getting as down on myself when one of my classes didn’t go over as well as I’d hoped. I realized that not every yoga class I taught was going to be the most amazing class. Sometimes the energy of a class is different or I’m not feeling as effective in my teaching, but then there are those classes where everything jives well and it’s a particularly amazing experience. Just like my handstand challenge, my responsibility is to show up, do my best, and always work to improve and enhance my skills.

3. I don’t have to like something to do it every day.
Some days I felt inspired and handstands were fun. Other days it was a big drag. Some days I’d have a great idea of a handstand and it worked out well. Other days it was 10:30pm, and I grudgingly dragged myself to the wall at my house to get the day’s handstand done.

2. The year took me to a lot of interesting places.
My year of handstands ended up being a record book of sorts of my experiences throughout the year, from travel to outings with friends. Locales of my handstands included: a fountain in Poland; an elephant sanctuary in Thailand; on first base at San Francisco Giants’ stadium, and at the bottom of a volcano in Mt. Lassen.

1. Day 365 brought a huge tide of emotions.
Abbie and I decided that Day 365 needed to be epic. We headed out to a scenic vista in Berkeley, California at sunrise, along with our talented photographer friend, Scott Fin, and my husband (himself a wonderful photographer and the man behind the camera for many of my handstand pictures. Out came yoga mats, tiaras, leg warmers, tutus, and champagne. We were giddy with laughter as we posed in the cold, raised a toast, celebrating the culmination of our year of hard work. It was the most amazing high, where I vacillated from tears to absolute elation. Looking over Scott’s pictures brought such joy and gratitude to my heart. We did it – and we did it together!

 

It’s On! Day One of Forrest Yoga Handstand 365 Challenge

I can’t balance in a handstand for long. That is without a wall behind me. This yoga pose has long eluded me and been an endless source of frustration. I watch people with envy as they gracefully find balance on their hands or gaze jealously at someone’s picturesque photo of their perfect handstand in some gorgeous outdoor setting.

It’s been a goal of mine this year to balance in handstand. The Grateful Yogi and I decided today to join in the Forrest Yoga Handstand 365 Challenge (#fyhandstand365). As you might guess from the name, this means doing a handstand every day (and take a picture of it), 365 days in a row for a whole year of handstands.

Besides getting in some daily practice towards my goal, this is also going to be a challenge for me to:

  • Learn how to set up a camera to take a picture of myself (after all, my hands will be a little busy)
  • Get more comfortable being photographed in yoga poses (something I almost never do)
  • Commit to a new daily habit, even when I’m feeling frustrated about the fact that I still can’t balance in handstand

You can check out some great pictures and follow the updates on the Forrest Yoga Handstand 365 Challenge blog.

Today is Day #1. For the first day, I thought I’d remind myself that while I can’t do handstand without the wall…yet…everyone can do some version of handstand.

photo

 

Tip Tuesday: Dealing with Your Dreaded Yoga Pose

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 yourselfWhatever 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.

 

 

 

 

How to move past a plateau to the next level

Ever get to a point when you’re practicing a skill where you feel stuck? Feel like you’re putting all this effort in, but you aren’t getting any better? Start wondering if you should really be even trying since you’re clearly not cut out for doing it?

Yeah, me neither.

But I recently read a great book, Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer that throws a wrench in this thinking. In the book, Foer, who is training his memory skills to compete in a memory competition, explores his learning process. He cites Michael Posner and the late Paul Fitts, two psychologists who described what they termed the “OK plateau” that occurs when you are acquiring a new skill. In the”OK plateau”, you’ve moved past the first stages of mentally and physically getting the hang of a new activity and assimilating this new knowledge. You reach a stage where the activity becomes more autopilot.  It’s no longer as difficult as it was, but you get to a point where you stop improving. You’re ok at what you’re doing, but you’ve come to a plateau.

How do you get past the stagnation? Foer points out Dr. K Anders Erricson’s study of expertise. We move past a plateau by failing keep our brains in the OK plateau. The people who are able to get past this wall and improve further, “deliberately practice the things they aren’t good at or that are hard.” That means failing. On purpose. And using our failures as a tool for improving from our mistakes.

Easier said than done, especially if you’re a person who tends to be a perfectionist. It’s very tempting to stay in the comfort zone of being “OK”, where you don’t fail, but you also never progress any further. In Forrest Yoga, we are continually challenged to stay out of auto-pilot. Consciously staying present in the breath is one of the best ways I know to begin to push past a stuck point in a pose. Yet it’s challenging and sometimes scary and there are days when I just want to zone out, revert to auto-pilot, and go through the motions, staying comfortably on my safe plateau.

In my practice, I’m becoming aware of the times–or particular poses–where I resist the challenge and risk of failure that are required in order to move forward. In an upcoming post, I’ll share how I, along with some fellow yogis,  are committing to push ourselves beyond our wall.

 

Tip Tuesday: Playing With Your Edge in Yoga

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.

The Edge (but not the edge in yoga)
Photo credit: (AP Photo/Robert E. Klein)

Frequently in yoga classes, an instructor will talk about “playing your edge” in a yoga pose. But what does this really mean?

A great explanation comes from yoga philosophy. In the Yoga-Sutra of Patanjali, the second sutra says, “Sthira sukham asanam.” Loosely translated this means, “The posture [should be] steady and comfortable” (Translation: Georg Feuerstein). In yoga, you seek to find that juicy point in the pose where you’re making an effort and challenging yourself, but not pushing yourself beyond the edge of where the breath gets laborious and the pose becomes painful.

Playing your edge is a skill. We have the tendency to vacillate between both extremes: pushing ourselves too hard, sometimes to the point of injury or bailing out amidst a challenging pose. Mentally it can be tough to tell, especially when you’re habituated to either (or both) of these patterns.

One of the questions Ana Forrest received at the Yoga Journal Conference was: “How can you tell if you’re going deeper in a pose because you are embracing the challenge or if it’s just your ego wanting to push further? How do you know when you’re coming out of a pose because you’ve reached your edge or if you are merely avoiding the intensity?” Ana responded that is a process. “As you start getting in better touch with feeling into the body, you begin to discern the difference between where your brain wants to go and where your body thinks it should go. There will be some trial and error as you learn where you may go too far in a pose and tweaking and then you know that was too much or going out of a pose and realizing you were avoiding the intensity.”

So be edgy in your yoga practice. Be cutting edge. Just don’t “edge” your bets.

I’m assisting Ana Forrest at the Yoga Journal conference

Photo credit: Forrest Yoga

Wow. I just found out that I will be assisting Ana Forrest at the upcoming Yoga Journal conference in San Diego.

Holy crap.

Ana is my main yoga teacher and phenomenally skilled teacher and healer. To be a part of the energy she weaves in her workshops is an amazing experience as a student and I am beyond excited to take part this time as an assistant.

Ana is also hardcore. I’m not quite sure when she sleeps or if she ever gets tired. Rare is the week that she is not traveling somewhere conducting workshops or teacher trainings. and trust me, both of these are intense.

So what business does a person like me have assisting her? Can I really do this? Will I be able to do a good job assisting students–even in an all-day intensive? Despite my excitement, these are the kinds of questions running through my head.

It occurred to me today that I actually have a choice about being nervous. Ok, maybe not about whether I feel nervous, but what I do with that feeling. I can be nervous and spin into self-doubt. Or I can acknowledge, “Yup, I’m scared and nervous” and choose differently. What if I tapped into my nervous energy and directed it towards dedicating myself to being 100% present to the best of my ability to the students, Ana, and the assistant team? What if I decided to believe, or at least act as if, I can be a great assistant? And what if, just maybe, I exceeded what I thought were the limitations of what I could accomplish?