Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Recipe for a Handstand: How A Handstand is Like Baking A Cake

Recipe for a Handstand. Attempting a handstand is like baking a multi-layered cake. We can think about the individual layers of cake, the frosting, atmospheric conditions, construction, and finally, the unique decoration of your masterpiece. Like baking your first cake, your first handstand may fall short of your expectations. They may be uneven, taste a bit starchy, and perhaps look like something a three year old constructed out of play dough.

For many people, the handstand is something that terrifies, eludes, and challenges even the most dedicated of yogis. Why? Because it takes everything you've learned in yoga, everything you've practiced on your mat and during meditation, and puts it to the test by, turning it upside down.
The first ingredient of the handstand recipe is Tadasana, good ole mountain pose. In mountain pose we study our bodies an anatomically neutral position and look for the weak links in our posture. Does our lower back sway causing our abdominal muscles to disengage? Does our body weight tend to shift toward the balls of our feet? We study each piece to feel the nuances of our bodies and practice holding a strong and supported standing position while remaining soft enough to relax and breathe.
Once we have studied Tadasana we add in Urdhva Hastasana, upward lifted hand pose, the second posture of the Sun Salutation series. When we move our arms overhead we look to see how the rest of our bodies respond. Do the ribs poke forward? Does the abdominal wall disengage? What is needed to maintain the lessons of tadasana while we add this second layer?
When this has been rectified we are ready to add the third ingredient, the sweet layers of frosting.This is made from tapas and amritas, the disciplined mind and the ambrosia of the gods. This tasty layer is also one of the trickiest to apply. If the consistency is too sticky or tacky, it will peel off the top layer of the cake. If it is too thin it won't do its job of holding the layers together. The perfect thickness can be achieved through a careful combination of self-discipline, determination, and method with surrender, playfulness, and listening.
Now that we have the three basic components of a handstand we can begin to practice:
1) Stand about 3 feet from a wall and practice the transition from Tadasana to Urdhva Hastasana while maintaining core integration.

2) Reach your hands to the floor and come into downward dog with your fingers 3 inches from the wall.

3) Re-establish urdva hastasana from your hands to your hips.

4) Walk you feet toward your hands and shift your shoulders over your wrists while looking between your hands.

5) Fire up your tapas while connecting to the soft flow of amrita.

6) Lift one leg toward the ceiling and use your lower leg as a spring. 
Practice keeping your core engaged while floating your lifted leg toward the sky.

7) Smile.

8) Keep practicing. Think about stacking your hips over your shoulders, over your wrists, like a multi-tiered cake.

9). Enjoy. Embellish your handstand with sound-effects, leg variations, and laughter!

10) Remember that some days will be more conducive to practicing handstands than others. The atmospheric conditions and the accessibility of the gods may be more generous on certain days. So, don't be discouraged. Just like baking a cake, be firm, know the quality of your ingredients, leave room for magic and whimsy, and when your practice is over, take a big ole bite and savor this delicious experience 

~Ashley Litecky Elenbaas