If you scroll through yoga inspired social media profiles you might assume that yogis rarely walk on their feet anymore. Handstands are ubiquitous and often seen as the measure of a 'proper' yogi. Ask a new student what their yoga goal is and it is usually handstand. Away from the wall. But let's be honest most yogis, both practitioners and teachers, don't practice handstand. Some of those shots are stills from videos where you might have held the pose for a fraction of a second. Or they have a spotter who has been cropped out of the shot. I have no problem with people posting pictures of handstands. It takes an enormous amount of dedication, strength and skill to be a prolific handstander. It is unfortunate that a snapshot in time does not capture that reality.
I am not a handstander. I attempt it every so often, get bored, and tired and stop. Feel the fear and do it anyway is the mantra of many. But to be honest I feel the fear and skip the handstand. Going upside down scares me. It is not an irrational fear. If I fall I can get hurt. I don't want to smash my face on the floor. Inversions are an important part of the yoga practice. But there are many alternatives to handstand that are just as effective and in many cases better because you are relaxed while doing them - child's pose, downward dog, dolphin, wide legged forward bends, headstand prep to name but a few. If you are afraid, skip it. If you are tense, skip it. It is bores you, skip it. If it is important to you to master this pose and you are prepared to put the work in, then go for it. Most people however are not in a physical place to include handstand in their practice. If you have chronically tight shoulders and thoracic spine, tight hamstrings, weak wrists, hypermobility in the elbows or poor core strength then there is a lot of preparation to be done before even attempting handstand. Maybe even years of preparation. Nevermind holding it in the middle of the room. If you feel the fear and want to do it anyway, that's grand but if you feel the fear and do an alternative that's fine too. Everything is optional.
Picture: Refinery 29
Depending on the yoga lineage your practice follows, physical alignment is afforded varying degrees of importance. For some, it is everything. For others, it has vague relevance. Most will agree that it is the foundation on which we build a practice. Yoga is the language. Alignment is the grammar. It is a bit like learning Latin. We learn the rules and through the application of those rules we have the basics to learn many languages. Alignment principles apply to all types of yoga, whatever its origin. But there comes a time which things need to become more fluent with less thinking. More fluid. Yoga isn't meant to be rigid. When you think of an infant brain, a baby learns language through immersion. Through experience. Through the realisation that there are many different ways to communicate a common idea. Children do not deconstruct and reconstruct sentences when learning to speak. They absorb and organically start to express themselves. The rules are learned through doing. To speak the language of yoga fluently maybe we should stop looking at it with an adult brain. We put too much emphasis on the rules and less on the freedom of expression that the physical practice affords us. It becomes too intellectual. Yoga should be about doing, living, being. You do not have to be a professor of linguistics to speak a language fluently. Grammar is important but do we really need to able deconstruct and label every part of a sentence in order to speak? Sometimes we just need to listen and respond. Making yourself understood is enough. With understanding comes fluency.
Find my short and sweet pointers to perfect your forearm plank pose in this month's Irish Tatler Magazine.