As a child, I used to love acrobatics and dance. Next to music, using my body to dance, stretch and twirl made me feel good. It was fun, playful and expressive. Yet, as I got older, it was like I somehow forgot and as life got busier, being playful and having fun were pushed to the bottom of the list…until recently.
Since the birth of my children, my life has been turned upside down, and I wouldn’t change a thing! Aside from having challenges with time management, (goes with the territory of working mom, I suppose), I woke up one day and realized I had let go of me. All of my energy and all of my focus were directed to my two beautiful kids, and I don’t regret a thing. But, what I became aware of was that I somehow forgot to lighten up and have fun, including taking time out for me to, well…just “be“.
So, I started doing different things a little at a time, that reconnected me to “me”. I eventually found things that were playful and fun and that’s when things started looking up. I got back to the gym, I started singing again both at home and in a glee group, I started reading books (and not just children’s books!) and I started writing again. But it was when I took up yoga a few years back, that I started to find a joyfully new perspective.
There is one day in particular that stands out for me, and it was the day that my world got turned upside down, again. Only literally this time. It was towards the end of yoga class and the teacher had happily announced we were going to do handstands. It had been over 20 years since I did any form of handstands. I was excited yet a bit intimidated. I wasn’t exactly sure that I was going to be able to do it, but nonetheless I was determined to try. Moving towards the wall, I pressed my hands on the floor and kicked up. Of course, my first attempt was
a fail. But after a few more tries, I did it! There I hung, upside down, feeling the blood rush to my head. Loving the feeling yet afraid to open my eyes for fear that if I really took in the fact that I was upside down, I might lose balance and fall on my head. At the end of class, I walked out of there feeling energized and happy.
I realized that being upside down had renewed me in a way. It made me feel like a kid, full of life and more importantly, joyful…happy. I haven’t stopped doing handstands since that day. Whether it’s with my kids at home, at the gym, or out travelling the world, I always find an opportunity to be upside down.
I get asked a lot why I do handstands, and my answer is this; because it’s fun! That answer is usually sufficient for those that applaud my efforts, but to others, it usually causes a scrunched up look of amusement in their faces followed by a head tilt, and then questions as to whether it’s safe or healthy.
I get that I’m not a professional yogi or gymnast. I understand that I could hurt myself, and I have. ( I recently fell when I became a little over zealous in my attempts to kick up and ended up flat on my back…ouch). But, there is something about being upside down that nourishes me. It turns out, that there are in fact health benefits to handstands.
Before I go on to list my top 3 reasons why handstands are good for me and why I do them, I will add the following disclaimer: There are contraindications to being upside down and those include, but are not limited to, those individuals who are pregnant, have a heart condition, high blood pressure and previous back/neck injury. Please check with your doctor before attempting any new form of physical activity.
My top 3 reasons for doing handstands:
1) As mentioned before, handstands for me are fun. It has been shown that handstands have a positive effect on mood. As the blood rushes to your head, it stimulates the pituitary gland to secrete Endorphins, those feel good chemicals that help elevate mood and make you feel happy. It also helps to increase the circulation of blood and lymph through the body, which helps to collect and eliminate any toxins in the body, thus improving your immune system.
2) I have absolutely gotten stronger, both in my core and arms since doing handstands. I can now play with different variations because I can hold myself up longer. I’ve also noticed more definition in the muscle tone in my arms and back. The process of kicking up your legs, holding your body weight up with your arms, while keeping your back and core engaged is a great way to build strength, coordination and improve your ability to concentrate. You have to be mindful of everything you are doing while performing a handstand. So you not only get physical benefits but mental ones as well.
3) It’s a perspective shift, both literally and figuratively. There is something quirky yet enlightening about viewing the world upside down. As soon as I was confident enough to open my eyes, I was amazed at the upside down perspective I gained. It literally shifted the way I viewed things. There is no way you can be angry, or sad while hanging out upside down. Try it! Inevitably you may have some resistance or fear to doing a handstand and when you are able to push through that, you bring forth lessons in courage, determination and trust. You need to have courage to start, determination to keep trying and trust that your feet will find the wall and the ground will support you.
For me it started off as a yoga pose, but handstands have become such a big part of my life. It’s the first thing I do when I’m stressed or tired. It’s a fun activity that I do with my kids, and lately, it seems to be the mark I leave behind every place I go. I’ve even started taking pictures of myself doing handstands in all the places I’ve visited. My only regret is that I didn’t start sooner.
At a charity golf tournament
At the gym
In Barcelona, Spain
Team Risi at a fundraising walk
At the office
In small town Eganville, Ontario
A jail cell in Alcatraz (San Francisco)
The Mandarin Oriental hotel, San Francisco