Taking a stand is one thing. Taking a handstand is another. I find it fascinating how yoga postures can become metaphors for our life, especially when we come to them with a spirit of exploration. I recently embarked on a journey of discovery with my handstand. It’s a journey that began unsuspectingly in a noisy yoga room in Bristol, Vermont several months ago.
We were taking a break during my Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy training, and everyone was chatting, dancing with hoops, and playing with yoga postures. I was having a conversation with a couple of friends when another dear friend, Sarah, approached me with an invitation. She wanted to know if I would like to practice handstands with her. My immediate reaction was to tell her no, I don’t really like doing handstands. The handstand was in fact the one yoga posture I had a visceral aversion to. It was an old part of me speaking, the little child who had always been afraid of falling and had never even trusted herself enough to attempt cartwheels. My arms, I was sure, were just too weak to support the weight of my body.
I thought my refusal would have been the end of it, but Sarah wasn’t ready to give up. She seemed to understand my hesitancy. There must have been a little child’s voice in her as well that had questioned her own strength at one time. She shared with me that she had felt the same way for a long time, but she had chosen just to go for it, to test her strength, and she’d found that feeling her ability to support her body with her arms had actually empowered her in other areas of her life. She felt less like she needed to lean on other people, more like she could stand on her own two feet. Her words struck a chord in me. What would it feel like, I wondered, to face my fear and just see what I could do?
We found an open space alongside a wall, and Sarah spotted me as I walked my feet up the wall. As I engaged my shoulders and pressed my palms into the floor, I felt a solidity in my upper body I had never experienced before. My very bones seemed to grow in density. Blood rushed to my head with a flush of energy. In that moment, my whole world turned upside down.
I practiced handstands with the support of a wall for several weeks after, until it wasn’t even a challenge anymore. I was feeling pretty good about my body’s ability to support me. And then, in the midst of some personal turmoil I was discussing with my mentor, she suggested I try a full handstand against a wall. Before setting me off on that task, she added the suggestion that I allow myself to be a little messy with it, to really test what I was capable of doing without caring what it might look like. I was feeling the need to know my strength, to trust that I could stand on my own, so I didn’t hesitate to give it a try.
After several attempts of kicking my legs up into the air and having them tumble back to the floor, I made it up. I stood there on my hands a few moments with my feet touching the wall as my body lengthened up to the ceiling. Then I moved them carefully away from the wall, stabilizing myself completely on the support of my hands. I was taking my handstand. When I came down, I laughed openly with delight. I had done it! Lifelong doubts about my strength dissolved in that one moment.
That one moment’s testimony to my physical strength became a symbol for my overall strength. I had turned my body upside down and in the process caught a glimpse of another version of myself. I experienced my inner source of strength, tenacity, courage, and empowerment. I felt this source pulsing through my veins, breathing through my muscles, and fortifying my bones. Since taking my first handstand, I have acquainted myself more and more deeply with this part of myself. That experience has marked a kind of rite of passage for me, a venture into incredible new territory of self-sufficiency and self-trust, where I’ve discovered a network of support living and thriving in my own body, mind and spirit. When we take the time to really be with a yoga posture, to explore our inner experience of it and how we relate to it, we invite a new awareness of ourselves in some way. Thanks for the invite, Sarah!