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January 28th, 2011

Handstand Nation: Why Keeping Your Feet On The Ground Is Still Important

By Sarah Ezrin

Since when did yoga become synonymous with handstands? Don’t get me wrong; I am a supporter of handstands. I believe there are innumerable benefits to handstands (or Adho Mukha Vrksasana as we yogis call it), from building upper body strength to increasing blood flow to the brain to helping overcome fear to sometimes just having fun. I regularly build sequences that include handstand to help open us for something deeper, and some days I build sequences that lead directly up to handstand itself. However, like anything in life, I firmly believe that too much of anything is not good and we have become a nation obsessed with more. People who can hardly hold Warrior II for five breaths are jumping up into handstand every moment they get a chance, because of some notion that handstands are more “advanced.” And suddenly the practice has become more about learning to fly instead of learning to ground.

Yoga used to be about sitting in stillness and finding acceptance with the present. Instead we are becoming more fascinated and, frankly, obsessed with going further and pushing harder. Level 1/2 classes are now more closely resembling 2’s; Level 2’s now look like 2/3’s; and 2/3’s like 3/4’s. What happens with this process is that we are getting further and further from our foundation. Yes, the physically advanced postures are sexy and alluring, but many people are jumping (no pun intended) right into learning them, without first establishing the most basic elements of any posture -- alignment and breath. In my practice of Ashtanga, we work on very intense physical postures; however, the process of the practice is that we first learn a number of more “basic” postures that help lay the groundwork for the later more “advanced” poses. Without this foundation, the later poses can be extremely risky and unstable. Like any architectural structure, each earlier posture lays a brick that forms the solid ground upon which we build the next posture. Intelligently sequenced flow classes, such as the YogaWorks method and Annie Carpenter’s Smart Flow style, achieve this same effect.

Now let’s be clear, I am not knocking learning nor teaching handstands, scorpion, or any of these delicious inversions. These are phenomenal postures and hugely integral to the practice of yoga. I am apart of this handstand culture and just as guilty! I am just saying that we need to be careful that we are not supersizing our yoga practices as we have supersized our meals. That we should remind ourselves that spending a few moments with both feet on the ground, in stillness and just breathing, is truly the advanced practice. And I think yoga goddess, Judith Lasater, put it best in a 1980 Yoga Journal, when she began to foresee the "more is more" phenomenon, and said “probably the most difficult ‘asana’ of them all is standing on one’s own feet, questioning and analyzing for oneself the deeper meaning of asana, yoga, and life.”

Handstand Nation:  Why Keeping Your Feet on the Ground is Still Important

2 Response(s) to Handstand Nation: Why Keeping Your Feet on the Ground is Still Important

On January 31st, 2011 at 1:42 pm, The Get In Shape Girl said:

My goal of 2011 is to do handstand pushups away from the wall. This is my goal because it just seems so hard, almost unattainable.. and may or may not have something to do with a competition I am having with someone in my life ;) But for so long I was scared of handstand and would kick up, just to kick right back down and giggle insanely out of nervousness. But because I set this goal I have been able to overcome that fear because I have had to practice going upside down over and over and over again.

But I 100% agree that you need to build up to any pose be it inversion or arm balance. I am very strong so I credit my muscles' ability to get me through crow, for example, but it took me a lot of practice to get my arms up there. And sometimes while I'm in my twisting prayer pose I want to go straight into side crow because it many ways, side crow is easier to me, but sometimes I know I need to go "back to basics," and keep my feet on the ground.

On February 8th, 2011 at 1:04 pm, Laura said:

Interesting perspective - thank you for offering it. I so agree re: connecting to the challenge with the most basic of postures - i.e. any of the warriors. I have been practicing for 10 yrs, and find that every time I get on my mat, every position is felt anew. Every day my body is unique, which in turn makes my flows go differently. Personally, as a type A person, I've found that standing in Mountain or Staff poses with proper alignment, working from my core, and being completely centered and present with my breath for 5ish cycles STILL challenges me. I'm thinking of incorporating a "back to basics" at least once a week in my home practice simply b/c it's easy to 'lose sight of the forest for the trees.' And, what's even better is that the basic postures bring me home every time. Every single time I go into Mountain, for example, it reminds me of the first time I ever "tried on" yoga...when I first fell in love with it. And, thus the beauty flowers from within, and extends from my core, to my limbs. So despite enjoying more "advanced" poses, or even many inversions, it's the basics, for me, that take me home in an unparalleled way.

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