Once upon a time my training consisted of nothing but handstands. I became injured, had to say goodbye to rings and anything that involved bent arm strength, and find something else to focus on. I had no pain doing handstands so I rolled with that. I grew them like a flower, giving them all my love and attention. And in the space of about two months I reached 60 seconds. I worked on straight lines, different head positions, stags, scorpions, straddles, tucks. I went to seminars and looked for coaching to be as emerged in the world of hand balancing as I could. Upside down was my favourite place to be. And I spammed Facebook with picture after picture of my life inverted.
At some point something changed. I became tired of them, I lost all the loves, and eventually I thought “f*** you handstands, you suck.” I think I’d lost track of why I was doing them. The funs of life intervened, I broke my foot and had to change my training again. I didn’t think kicking up into a handstand in a cast would have been ideal anyway. So they went into ‘maintenance mode’. Well ‘I don’t want to train that skill anymore’, mode is probably more accurate.
I’ll be honest, I kind of lost them. It was like “whoops, where’d my handstand go..?” Even though I never lost the ability to kick up and hold one they stopped being consistent, my line was more like a zigzag, and I had a lot less strength and mobility in any inverted position. Can you say closed shoulders… I just let them go and said goodbye. I was busy jumping off rocks and breaking bones anyway.
Moving on from something that consumed my training and that I’d worked so hard to progress and perfect felt like a massive step backwards. Even though it’s important to cycle your training and focus on other skills or develop different attributes, it was still in the back of my mind that I wanted them back.
I remember back to those training sessions when I was practicing them just because I wanted to. How it made me feel to be upside down. I would completely zone out, and repeat the same movement over and over again to learn how it was supposed to feel. I was doing it because I loved it, I wanted to get better at it, and it was for me.
I never thought I’d get back to the point where my handstands feel like mine again. I never thought being upside down would become a happy place like it used to be. Or that I could be that present in such a still movement. There’s so much peace and simplicity when you’re able to see such a simple movement for what it is. A place to be quiet, and find balance.
And being able to block everything out around me. Since I train in a Crossfit gym, there can be quite a lot of noise from other people when they’re lifting or WODing (yeah that’s a real word now), and it can be distracting. Maybe ear plugs would help. But if I focus on my breathing, count the seconds in my head or out loud, then I can’t hear anything. People walk past so I’m aware of movement around me, but all I’m watching is the floor between my hands. I re-balance and re-balance, checking my body from finger tips to toes, and then I’m holding myself on that balance point and it’s effortless. I sink into the floor, like if I relaxed any more my fingers would dissolve through the mats. My feet reach up to the ceiling, my whole body extends, my mind goes quiet, my breath is steady, and I’m so happy in that moment.
People often ask, “How long will it take to get my handstand?” Of course it depends on the individual, their background in training, and their current level of strength and body control. But really it takes as long as it takes based on the amount of time and effort you put into your training. I think it takes as long as you’re able to love them for, and put up with the frustration and inconsistency that is more frequent than those tiny inches of progress you make. If this is you, don’t let that go. Because actually every time you kick up, tuck up or press up, hold for a few seconds or a minute, or wave your legs upside down, it’s progress. It has got to be one of the most worthwhile skills that you can learn, and I still find it’s the most enjoyable and worthwhile skill to teach.
I’ll probably always have a love hate relationship with handstands. I’ll never be a hand balancer, and there are so many hand balancing skills I’ll never achieve. And I really don’t want to. It’s got nothing to do with that anymore, it’s just about having all the funs and doing what I enjoy. Sometimes on the floor, sometimes on a tyre, and sometimes in a door frame. It’s about what I feel in my body when I move. Most importantly it’s about the love.