by Hannah Greenstreet
Beyond the Western culture of yoga that glorifies handstands on social media and places them on a pedestal as the ultimate goal of asana practice, there is a powerful relationship that opens when we develop an intimate practice with ourselves and inversions. Adho Mukha Vrksasana, the Sanskrit term for handstand, is an advanced pose that can be accessible to all if we break it down in pieces and devote steady practice to progressing. There are a few principles that drive why I personally choose to stand on my head and/or hands at least once a day (or as many times as I can fit in).
First, focus. When we challenge ourselves enough to literally hold the weight of our body contrary to gravity, we have to conjure up some serious focus. When getting upside down, we can’t check out or think about our to-do list. We are so incredibly present, eyes focused, connecting to where we are in space. What I cherish about the focus required to sustain a head/handstand is that it offers the chance to be totally alive in your body.
Second, clarity. When we get upside down, it gives us a personal moment of invigorating perspective. It’s like we take ourselves on a personal rollercoaster where we enliven our spirit and see our reality through a different lens. We debunk the ego’s myth that life is exactly how we see it and can recreate our relationship to the world around us from a wholehearted place.
Third, rejuvenation. This breaks down to the literal flush to the blood and cells created when we fling our legs up toward the sky. It is healing for our physical bodies to break up the order of day to day functioning and find renewal; kind of like internal housecleaning. Physical and mental revitalization is a beneficial result of establishing an inversion practice.
Lastly, and maybe the most obvious, balance. Getting upside down in space calls for ample balance, which is the main reason why inverted poses involve so much practice. When we remove the expectation of achieving the ‘Western-worshipped’ handstand and simply hone in on balancing our body’s relationship to the space around us, we uncover the process of building strength and balance.
Adho Mukha Vrksasana demands regular practice; it takes commitment to surpass the fears of falling or failing as strength is cultivated to sustain a handstand. It requires the motivation to keep trying and using props to help properly learn how to hold a head/handstand. It’s an ever-evolving challenge worth including in your asana practice. There is infinite opportunity for all yoga students. When we unite our focus and balance through consistent practice, we gain the clarity and rejuvenation that help us illuminate grace and ease within ourselves. We connect to our mat and the earth. Ultimately, we can discover peace and comfort in the fresh perspectives when take the risk to flip everything on its head. Join me on July 15 and 29 for two inversion-specific workshops and gain simple techniques to access inversions at any level.