At the start of 2020, I jumped on the bandwagon and followed a social media yoga challenge...well to an extent. #ResolutionHandstand2020 was the challenge. It was a 10 day handstand challenge open to everyone of all levels looking for a challenge physically and mentally. At this point I had been practicing a pincha mayurasana (forearm stand) for a couple of months. I still can't hold it without the wall, but practicing all the motions during this challenge has helped me build strength in my core and my shoulders.
The challenge was sponsored by several advanced yogis and a yoga apparel brand. One small piece of criticism I did have for the challenge was that they could've done a better job of getting beginners a part of the challenge. Each day the yogi I followed for the challenge, Susan Bishop, would post a different handstand for the participants to recreate. Susan posted warm ups before showing the final video of her in the handstand without the wall. It would've been nice to hear from beginner yogis and their struggles and how they are adjusting their muscles to hold positions in the early stages.
This never discouraged me but it's helpful to relate to someone at the same stage in their practice as you are. Shining a small light on the novice yogi would help address some of the challenges experienced when trying to achieve these handstands.
My Handstand Progress
At this time last year, I could not get my legs over my head at all. The thought of holding a handstand against the wall was very scary to me and seemed unattainable at the moment.
I feel it's important to share my beginning struggles with the hopes it inspires you and keeps you motivated to keep going! Plus it's fun to see.
Starting out I didn't have any of the strength needed to land this inversion. My arms had no muscles, I didn't even know how to engage my abs to help my legs lift up. I was just out there drowning and hoping I'd figure it out. I kept looking to the camera to make sure I was doing it right LOL signs of not feeling all the way comfortable, yet.
During this time, I just began taking yoga class about three times a week and lifting weights 1-2 times a week. I would just practice throwing myself up against the wall. Some weeks I would practice every single day for about ten minutes and others every three days or whenever I felt like it.
By October, I could finally align my hips more over my shoulders, making it easier to kick up. From practicing and stretching this position my right leg even comes way higher making shifting my weight over my shoulders easier, as well.
This progress only came from practice! 5 minutes to 10 minutes a day or 3-4 days a week.
Some days I would just hold the "dolphin pose" and stretch and breath in this position for several minutes. dolphin pose= the starting position. Elbows on the ground, hips and butt lifted up over your head. **this position is very hard at first and will really be a strong stretch. It is the key to getting into pincha mayurasana.
Each time you get your legs over your head onto the wall, try to hold against the wall a little longer. Learn to breathe with your chest, so your stomach/abs stay tight and activated.
The straighter you stretch your legs up, and activate your glutes, you'll begin to feel what the slight balance feels like and your body will start feeling lighter and lighter. When you activate your muscles you no longer feel like dead weight.
Now, even though I am still holding onto the wall with my toes, I am comfortable enough to do certain poses with my legs, like "stag legs."
Doing positions like this, require you to strengthen and engage your abs. This protects your lower back from holding all your weight on it.
And that comes with practice.
Here are the list of handstands that were posted at the start of each day for the challenge.
1- Straight up ✨ 2- Charger✨ 3- Stag✨ 4- L Shape✨ 5 - Tuck ✨ 6- Split✨ 7- Half Pike✨ 8- Straddle✨ 9- Hollowback✨ 10- Wall Holds✨
Week 1: Excitement and ready to take on the challenge At the start of the challenge I had a huge surge of excitement and motivation to get it going. I felt like this challenge helped hold me accountable to practice getting upside down every day and it did. Although I couldn't do many/any of the daily poses, I still managed to get up there.
Week 2: Wrist and hand placements
I used this time to learn about my wrist placements, wrist stretches, and even practiced other positions that will help me achieve my yoga goals (forward folds daily, hip openers with the yogi squat, chaturunga helped strengthen my shoulders and abs to hold pinchas longer).
I get really painful tingling in my right arm/hand. Every now and then the pain can be unbearable. A doctor told me it was carpal tunnel syndrome. Pressure and awkward wrist positions make my hand extremely sensitive. During week 2 I did a lot of reading about yoga and carpal tunnel and began incorporating wrist stretches before I practice.
If you work at a desk or with your hands daily, wrist stretching, massaging, and exercises will help prevent carpal tunnel and keep the muscles around the joint strong.
Here is a helpful graphic for wrist warm ups:
Here is another very helpful post.
Week 3: Beginning to notice the improvements and it gave me another surge of energy to practice every day.
Week 4: Went back to Yoga classes After returning to yoga class, I noticed that many of the basic flows weren't as much as a struggle as in the beginning of the month. Staying consistent in my little at-home practice helped me for real yoga classes. I was now able to go through a 55-minute class without stopping, or even feeling too tired or weak to keep going.
What I learned:
1. I can do yoga in the morning even just 3 minutes
Yoga isn't all fancy poses and balancing on one foot. Your personal yoga practice could just be five slow, deep breaths and touching your toes. Stretching even just 3 minutes will improve blood flow, circulation, improve posture and decrease muscle soreness.
If you can't get to yoga in the morning, take a minute to stretch in the middle of the day or when you relax after a long day.
2. The body is truly amazing
All those bendy positions really are possible!! Each week I feel my body expand more and more. I am a lot more flexible now than I was a year ago and that's just from daily stretching and mindful breathing.
3. Yoga is for everyone
Yoga is portable and can be done anywhere, anytime. It's not competitive. It's a healing and strengthening practice no matter your age, gender, weight, background, or fitness level!
4. You can't do the fancy poses without practicing the basic salutations
If for you the fancy poses are your ultimate goal, then remember you can't do them without learning and practicing the basic salutations and flows. To hold a handstand you need to know about engaging your core, lengthening your legs and what that feels like, "protecting your lower" and what that means. You don't want to attempt a pose or an inversion without knowing the basics. That's how you get injured.
Show up on your mat with no expectations. Or, at least TRY to. Get in your body instead of getting lost in your thoughts and thinking about what to do. Use the body to release negative energy. Wiggle around, do shoulder rolls, roll your neck to release tension. Trust your intuition. Let go of your definitions of what a 'good' yoga practice is and start with poses you know or just stretch your muscles. You don't have to do hard postures or inversions for your practice to 'count' for the day. Keep track of your progress. Give yourself a thumbs up for how far you've come and remember consistency yields results.
This can be yoga too!