the pursuit of handstands

pursuit of handstands yoga Nicaragua
handstand attempt in Nicaragua

Practice, practice, and all is coming – Sri K. Pattabhi Jois

Even though I had been practicing yoga on and off since I took my first class in 1998, I used to think that I would not be a legit yogi until I had mastered Adho Mukha Vrksasana, aka handstand.

Two things happened that changed my mind.

do it now. do it now. do it now

First: a friend at work signed up for the first part of Anusara teacher training, which I had been quietly planning to do within the next five years – after I had perfected handstand, of course. “Why not do it now?”, she asked me. And she was right. I couldn’t do handstand, but I had the support and blessing of my coworkers to pursue this goal, I was in an okay-enough financial position to take this on, and lastly – I was passionate about learning how to share the gift of yoga with others. I registered for teacher training a few days after this conversation, in January 2010.

pursuit of handstands yoga Yukon
handstand attempt at Carcross Desert, the Yukon

set your intention

The second thing that happened was during teacher training itself, which was full of all sorts of partner-assisted handstands, including forearm balances, dropbacks, supported one-arm handstands, and a variety of ways to kick up. Someone asked if you could still be a good instructor without being able to demonstrate all advanced poses. “I don’t give a shit if you can do handstand or not,” our teacher said. With that one sentence, my perspective shifted. He continued: “What’s important is your intention. The way you open yourself to grace every time you practice. The way you encourage others and teach what you know from a place of authenticity.”

I realized then that my handstand goal had to change in order for me to achieve it.

always learning

I was reminded of my teacher’s words about handstand during a hot yoga class this past Friday morning. As we reached back to grab our ankles and extend out into Dancer Pose, the teacher said: “There are no final yoga poses. There is always something to learn, something new to explore, something we haven’t yet experienced.”

pursuit of handstands yoga Campbell-River
handstand attempt in Campbell River BC

the pursuit of handstands

Today is July 10, 2011. I’m a certified yoga teacher. I still can’t do handstand, without the wall, in the middle of a room with no one to catch me if I fall. But I’ve realized that the discipline of a regular and consistent yoga practice is much more important and difficult than mastering one advanced pose.

To others in pursuit of handstand, this is what matters: you got out of bed. You unrolled your mat. You moved, you breathed, you were kind to yourself and others. Your handstand, the master pose that you think signals you are finally a yogi, does not exist. You are a yogi now. What matters is your two hands, pressed into the top of your mat, and your open heart. What matters is that you kicked up, that you keep kicking, that you kick over and over and over.

Practice, practice, and all is coming.

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Love it! I can’t do a handstand, but as of last week, I can run 6 miles!!! Marathon, here I come…in 4 months!!

Comment by Emily @ Journey to the Center of Manhattan — July 19, 2011 @ 12:13 pm

I love this!!

Everything you need is already inside you. Open to Grace, set your intention, and try. Be open to the possibility that today could be the day!

Comment by H-woman — July 19, 2011 @ 12:35 pm

Hmmm, maybe I’ll relax a little about being the only one in my Rocket Yoga class who can;t do the crow posture then. Loved the line “what matters is your two hands pressed into your mat and your open heart” – it made me fall in love with yoga all over again!

Comment by basilb — July 19, 2011 @ 12:40 pm

I tell myself this almost every day, Alana. And when you do get three seconds of hang-time up there, it’s so amazing! Even if it’s only three.

Comment by Liz — July 19, 2011 @ 12:46 pm

So good to read! I’m working diligently to be able to do a headstand and I like the concept of re-focusing the goal.

Comment by Kelly Burns Gallagher — July 19, 2011 @ 12:56 pm

I’m a yoga teacher too and I adore my students and always tell them wherever they are today is where they are meant to be…to be gentle and kind and loving to themselves. But it’s such hard advice to follow for myself! Handstands are my nemesis as well and you just brought tears to my eyes and made me feel so accepting of myself with your beautiful, playful post. Thank you so much! Namaste dear one! -nicole

Comment by Nicole — July 19, 2011 @ 1:14 pm

Love it. I can’t do it either and I am a teacher too. I always say, yoga is about breath and movement not acrobatics. :-D

Comment by Andrina — July 19, 2011 @ 1:39 pm

It actually got my tearing when I read the last paragraph. I have huge fear about handstand and other advanced inversion and hand balance poses. It took me about 8 months to finally overcome the fear of falling on my face to be able to do crow pose. This article is such a encourage to me! Thank you!

Comment by Monica — July 19, 2011 @ 1:52 pm

THANK YOU!!!! I am starting teacher training without mastering advanced poses. I have some spinal limitations that limit my flexibility, but I still love yoga and would love to pass it on to others. Non judging and compassion in a teacher is what I look for, not advanced poses.

Comment by Michele — July 19, 2011 @ 4:13 pm

You’re a fantastic writer. Thanks so much.
“You are a yogi now.”
Love it:)

Comment by Missy — July 19, 2011 @ 6:37 pm

Thank you Alana, so nicely done, a metaphor for life. Get, up, get dressed, show up – today is the day, do it now, do it now, do it now.

Comment by Sally McRae — July 19, 2011 @ 8:25 pm

I did my first handstand without thinking at a class at 2nd Avenue Jivamukti in the early 1990s when the teacher Joni asked everyone to. It took three years before I could do it again “with thinking”.

Comment by Lafacadio — July 19, 2011 @ 8:38 pm

Beautiful post! Arm balances in general are my nemesis, so it’s inspiring to see all the photos of attempts at handstand.

“Focus on the journey, not the destination.”

Comment by Courtney — July 20, 2011 @ 9:57 am

jayna murray could do the best handstand. she was/is my inspiration for being able to do one myself one day!

Comment by stuart — July 20, 2011 @ 1:37 pm

Yes! This is me!! I am exactly the same, and I thought I was alone! Like I said to my mum, there has to be someone you can’t do handstands to make the people in the class who can do it to feel good! And I am assuming this position! Haha thank you :)

Comment by Lauren — July 20, 2011 @ 6:54 pm

thanks for the great article. as a teacher trainee (who can’t do unsupported handstand!) & was teaching some students to do handstands the other day, i think students really respond to us admitting our own limitations & our willingness to keep on trying :-)

Comment by andrea — July 21, 2011 @ 7:30 am

Love this post Alana… great insight!!

Comment by Tedi — July 21, 2011 @ 11:32 am

Thank you so much for sharing!! I went to a yoga studio last summer (my regular classes had been cancelled for the summer holiday) and wound up feeling totally inadequate because the teacher only praised (and would only help) students in the class who could already do some of the more difficult inversions (handstand, headstand, crow, etc). The rest of us just got to hang out and wait for the rest of the students to finish–no help for us. The instructor was really young and it was a new studio (which subsequently closed shortly thereafter). I realized after that experience that what I look for in a good yoga instructor is an open, encouraging and nonjudgmental approach to his/her students–not whether or not they can personally master handstand.

Comment by Amy — July 21, 2011 @ 2:26 pm

Thank you so much. I am currently studying in a 500 hour program and felt so inadequate today after everyone else in the class could accomplish a handstand but me. After reading all of your comments I now remember why I am “practicing” yoga. I may or may not do a handstand one day, but today, right now, I am happy with what I am able to do. Thank you.

Comment by Heidi — August 2, 2011 @ 2:01 pm

thanks:-).i am going for 250 hr teacher training course .i can do asanas except arm and handstand. i am so worried for that ,but after reading your writing i m encouraged to go there. today do it now do it now………..

Comment by annesha — June 5, 2012 @ 9:30 am


Comment by annesha — June 5, 2012 @ 9:32 am

Thank you so much for this, had a tear in my eyes. I can bend like a pretzel yet, headstands and handstands are my nemesis! I got really upset recently when my boyfriend, Ashtanga practitioner for 3 years, said to me “What’s the point of doing yoga if you can’t do the inversions” Well that upset me, he should now better, thank you for this wonderful article, I am going to ask him to read it and perhaps he can focus on intention rather than determination. Yoga for me is about mind just as much body. Thanks again, you made my day, I almost stopped going to yoga and now my intention is even stronger, to pracice in spirit and then body. Namaste

Comment by Jasmin lee — November 22, 2012 @ 9:40 pm

Yoga is much more than gymnastics and sometimes we forget this. If everyone waited until they could do a handstand before they became a yoga teacher I think there would be some very good teachers missing. So what if the person in the front of the room can rock a handstand?

Jasmine, try to keep in mind that Ashtanga practioners are kind of the jocks of the yoga world and their approach to things is just a tad over the top. In dealing with your boyfriend you just have to keep bringing it back to what you are trying to get out of yoga which it seems you do. For you it is the spiritual as well as physical. Maybe for him it is all about inversions so let him go to it!

Comment by kay — February 5, 2013 @ 8:04 pm

thanks for this….i wanna take the rocket teacher training..and thought i will only be able to do it once i have mastered handstand.

then i thought back to my RYT200 and i could not do all of the poses taught in every class. Being true to my inner self and allowing to be exactly where i am in life is so much more important.

I would rather be a peaceful balanced person rather than a gymnast.

thank you again

Comment by jason p — April 24, 2013 @ 1:11 am

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