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!