Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Life Lessons from Handstand: Forget You Can't Do It

Handstand is one of those poses which immediately causes people to thing “I can’t do that!” You are balancing your entire weight on your hands.  In my class, that means you are doing that in the center of the room.  Like all asana, it is comprised of 3 parts: entry, held expression of the pose, and exit.  To ‘do’ the pose means to do all 3 parts.  A war cry, flip and thud against a wall is not a handstand.  Crashing to the ground afterwards is not a handstand. Purposefully and mindfully approaching a preparatory step, even if neither foot leaves the ground, is a perfect handstand.

There are so many things working against you in this pose: Gravity, for one. Fear. Strength.  Gravity.

It took me countless attempts, with countless cartwheel escapes before I became, frankly, so annoyed with not hitting the pose that I no longer cared if I ever hit it. 

And once I gave up thinking about hitting the pose, I began to hit it.

The trick, I found, to learning handstand is very simple: you have to forget you can’t do it.

If we look at someone in a handstand and immediately begin to compare ourselves to that person, yes, never having done the pose you most likely cannot do it.  Just because something  is ‘impossible’ right now does not mean it is ‘impossible’ forever.

Handstand provides an opportunity to work on how we react to our limitations.  We first have to accept that our version of the pose will not match someone else’s expression of it.  So we begin by trying. Donkey kicking those legs up with all the brute force you can muster.  Or you meekly and half-heartedly lift one foot a centimeter off the ground.  But you keep trying. Experiencing frustration, questioning why you are doing this.  But you keep trying.

And something funny happens. With continued practice the fear and frustration begin to fall away.  You adapt and change.  You develop your expression of the pose—which may not ever be a complete balance on your hands. But it is your pose, the correct pose for you.

How many times during the day to we face adversity.  Do more with less.  Answer all these e-mails and phone calls. The job needs to be done yesterday.  Reassignment. Reorganization. Make dinner. Pick up kids. Flat tire in the rain. Splinter.

We can let fear paralyze us. We can get angry at the situation and fight against it. Or we can forget it—whatever ‘it’ may be—is impossible and start doing it. Maybe we will succeed or maybe we will not. Maybe we will have to re-define what success looks like.  When we try (paraphrasing MK Gandhi as I write this on his 143rd birthday) with full effort, we achieve full victory.

And if you can do the impossible (ie-getting out of your own head enough to try handstand, not necessarily hitting the arm balance) in one area of your life, than you can do it in another.

Handstand is not just gymnastics, it is a laboratory for learning to deal with life.

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