What Handstands Taught Me

05/22/2015 12:45 pm ET | Updated May 22, 2016


Illustration by Sara Lee Bentley

I've been practicing yoga for the past 14 years, way before the knowledge of what a downward dog was entered into mainstream conversation and Instagram's countless talented yogis -- along with their stunning exotic backdrop locales -- became the daily dose of marvel and inspiration for millions around the world.

My yoga/stretching abilities are admittedly fairly good. Although I didn't spend my childhood training to be a gold medal Olympic gymnast, wheel poses and its variants, all manner of legged dogs and other animal inspired shapes and twists now come quite naturally to me. But there's always been one pose that I long avoided. One pose that I always shied away from.

That's right, you guessed it. The handstand.

I don't know why that is, but the thought of balancing all of my weight, upside down, on the palms of my hands just never appealed to me. Perhaps something about being worried that one ill attempt would leave me with a large purple bump on my forehead that no amount of my favorite Clinique concealer could tackle, if not worse. In short, I have an extremely active imagination and I was worried that a badly done handstand could impair my ability to use it. Hence, 14 years of yoga meant 14 years of avoiding handstands.

Then came Instagram.

I couldn't help but marvel at some of these yogis abilities. They just make handstands seem so... effortless. Their apparent ease emboldened me. Maybe it was timing -- I was simply ready to give myself a new challenge -- but I started thinking, "Why can't I do that?" After all it's "mind before matter," right?

My first attempts were far from perfect. "Strong" and "graceful" are two adjectives that could never be used to describe them. Instead, they were more akin to a newborn giraffe that's been told it has to learn to stand on two legs instead of four. Get the (clumsy) picture?

Funnily enough, my handstand abilities started to rapidly improve after a simple, caffeine induced inspiration of questionable brilliance occurred to me (I always seem to get my best thoughts over a cup of tea): Walking or even standing upright doesn't come naturally to babies, does it? Nope. They have to learn how to do it by stumbling and plopping over countless times before the soles of their feet (not to mention their ankles, knees and tiny thigh muscles) get accustomed to balancing their body upright. Well, that's just what handstands are... but upside down. I took solace in this thought and little by little the palms of my hands (not to mention my wrists, forearms and shoulders) got used to balancing my body weight downside up.

Not that I didn't want to give up. There were many times when it took all my might to will my elbows to not buckle; to ignore the pressure on my wrists, the shaking of my shoulders and the insistent negative voice in my mind saying that I was going to be facing the dreaded purple bump on my forehead unless I gave up.

I didn't give up.

I guess you can say that handstands are great life lessons. Their accomplishment shows that nothing in life is impossible -- some things are just more difficult than others. And mastering those difficulties involves facing our fears, head on (although hopefully not literally while upside down) and not taking "no" for an answer. Even when that nay saying voice is coming from inside our own minds -- perhaps, especially when it is.

So, yes, handstands have been added to the wheels, legged dogs and bendy animal inspired shapes and twists performed on my yoga mat. Are my handstands as strong, graceful and effortless as those aforementioned talented Instagram yogis? Maybe not yet. But another caffeine induced inspiration of questionable brilliance has just occurred to me -- perhaps for that accomplishment, I need to procure a stunning exotic locale as my backdrop.

For more from Sara Lee Bentley, please visit her here.