I was practicing handstands recently in a small empty corner of the gym while a man, spinning frantically on his stationary bike, peered on. As I proceeded to move onto a different task, this man had two comments for me:
#1 “You are just showing off.”
#2 “You must have been a gymnast.”
Mind you, he is not the first person to make such remarks, nor will he be the last. I took a deep here-we-go-again breath, kindly explained to him that I had never been a gymnast and the only reason I could do a handstand was because I have actually been practicing handstands…every…single…day…for the past couple of years.
Say what? Someone actually developed a skill by working at it regularly? An outrageous concept, I know.
Two and a half years ago, I traveled across the globe after being deeply moved by a YouTube video I had come across online. In the video, a man was explaining what he believes a smart movement practice really looks like, and what it really takes to expand the body’s capacity for movement. That man was Ido Portal.
Listening to Ido talk, I had the humbling realization that I had spent the past 15 years and tens of thousands of dollars to learn movement systems that had ultimately failed to develop me into the kind of mover I really aspired to be. So, I did what any movement obsessed, slightly irrational person would do: I flew to Singapore to work with him in person.
Through Ido’s brilliant programming, his team’s endless support, and my unrelenting stubbornness…a handstand, and many other foundational skills, were eventually born.
EVENTUALLY… as in I poured hours of blood, sweat and tears into my daily practice for months that accumulated into years.
For the first 6 months of being introduced to Ido’s work, I focused on strengthening my wrists, my fingers and my line. The wall was my only hope in hell of holding a handstand for any length of time. I persistently worked on drills that would be the equivalent of a child learning the alphabet; they were basic, they were tedious AND they made it possible for me to start writing a much more interesting movement story.
Wrapping up my first year of daily handstand work, I was able to hold a static handstand in the center of the room for 30-45 seconds. Since then I have continued to improve my line, play with variations and utilize the strength I have gained for other movement patterns that never would have been possible without the strength I had built during my handstand work.
Unexpectedly, what I have learned over the past 2.5 years of learning how to stand on my hands has given me a lot of insight on how to more effectively conduct life on my feet and that is really what I want to share with you today.
Being Stubborn Is Undervalued
I have been called stubborn more than a few times in my life and not once was that reference intended to be a compliment. I was taught early on that stubbornness is a pain in the ass not an asset. And while I understand that being stubborn has a dark side, it also has a bright, shiny and often underappreciated side.
My stubbornness put me on a plane to Singapore to work with a teacher who could help me in a way that no other movement teacher ever had.
My stubbornness dragged me (sometimes kicking and screaming) to practice hours a day despite having a job, a young child and other life challenges.
My stubbornness came to my defense when resistance, fear and self-sabotage attempted to knock me over during my practice.
How You React Is a Testament to Your Practice
For the first two years of working towards a strong handstand, I could not allow my attention to drift. I had to be in the moment and fiercely committed to the task at hand.
I have practiced the skill of standing on my hands so much, that I now find myself trusting my body more and more to be able to balance without over thinking the details of what that skill requires. My basic static handstand does not require the unrelenting laser focus it once did (which has its advantages considering that much of my training is done with a 6-year-old). Finding a state of balance is now just the way I respond to being on my hands and that is an awesome thing!
Unless You Are Under Water, Keep Breathing
Remembering to breathe in a position as challenging as a handstand is no small feat, and certainly made me realize how often I take my breath for granted.
Early on in my handstand practice I would try to hold my breath, which of course, forced me to have to come out of a handstand position prematurely. It took me months of practicing being upside down before breathing got easier and it is no coincidence that as I started to breathe more easily, I found I was able to maintain my handstand longer.
I am more successful when I remember to breathe.
Don’t Expect Others to Understand
I know how hard I worked for every ounce of my handstand. I fought hard for her, which makes our relationship all the sweeter, but people rarely want to acknowledge that hard work has been our foundation.
It is far more comfortable for people to pin achievements on:
It is easier to pin success on ANYTHING other than hard work, because if hard work is the secret sauce…well…that means the possibility is available to everyone. Developing skill in any area is a choice and there are a lot of folks out there who don’t want to be reminded of that because it would mean abandoning excuses and rationalizations.
Failure Is a Bitch and a Godsend
For every successful handstand I have had over the past two and half years I have probably had 10 times that amount of failures:
- I failed because I entered the position too aggressively.
- I failed because some days I just didn’t have the grit to push through.
- I failed because I would trip on my ego.
- I failed because I didn’t have the patience, the focus, the trust, the line…among hundreds of other reasons.
But each failure contained a nugget of gold if I was willing to forge for it.
Where I failed, I gained new insight and that insight helped me to move forward more informed about what didn’t work so I could eventually sort out what did.
Doors Are More Intriguing Than Finish Lines
Ido constantly reminds his students that although we work hard (really stinking hard) at developing certain movement skills, these skills are just doorways to more movement exploration and possibility.
Handstands, planches, front levers, Olympic lifting and Olympic ring work are not the end, they are simply tools that can help someone expand their capacity for movement.
Holding a 60 sec handstand, I realized rolling into my second year of training with Ido, wasn’t the end, it was just the beginning and this process has made me wonder how many goals in my life I have treated as a finish line to cross rather than an invitation to open yet another door.
**Music by: Molly Mitchell, “Pretty Bird”, . Used with permission.
“Pretty Bird” can be purchased at the following locations: