When I was a kid, I used to love doing handstands. I did handstands for fun all the time. Sometimes at school in gym class or at recess. Sometimes at home in the house. Often outside in the yard. I loved the feeling of being upside down. I loved the movement and the odd feeling of freedom it seemed to bring. I think of my 10-year-old self – peak handstand age for me – almost in awe of the feeling of blood rushing to the head and back down. As a teenager, handstands were rarer, and more about the accomplishment than the enjoyment and the fun. Eventually, my hand standing stopped. As I got out of the habit, it became more difficult. When I tried again at 17, it was suddenly frightening and difficult. Handstands got put aside.
Several years ago, I became handstand curious again. I began to do little donkey kicks for a while, never taking on the full attempt at a handstand. Fear of breaking my neck was strong! I was afraid of crashing down on my head, flailing over and breaking my back, or rolling over and breaking my neck. The fear was real. I stayed safe and did little kick ups.
I spent literally years of doing baby kick ups occasionally, whenever the desire struck me as part of my yoga practice. Then, just a few years ago, I started to get really interested in trying handstands again. It became something I more consciously worked toward. I started with moving to handstands up against a wall – walking my feet up the wall, then taking turns removing a toe to feel what it would feel like to be completely vertical. A few times, I had my husband hold my feet so I could get the feeling of where my balance should be in space, but that tended to be a disaster for us both. I panicked from feeling a lack of control, he panicked because he was afraid of hurting me. I went back to the wall.
A few weeks ago, I tried a free-standing handstand again for the first time in a long time. I got close. I could feel that my feet were close to vertical. I was almost there! I focused on strength. I swept my arms up forcefully - channeling my inner gymnast from watching summer Olympics – then powerfully swung down my arms and propelled my feet up. So close, but still not quite there. Sometimes I went a bit too far over and had to pivot to the side and come crashing down. I kept practicing.
Then, one day, after a particularly luscious yoga practice, I decided to try again. I was in full post-yoga Zen mode. Instead of muscling up and prepping with force, I simply slowly lowered my hands in front of me and floated my feet up. And they hovered!! I floated back down in shock. It had to be a fluke. Had that really happened? I tried it again. Again, my feet hovered in full handstand for a few seconds. Amazed, I realized that the trick to getting the lift I was looking for was not in the forcing and pushing, but in the ease and allowing. I dropped the struggle and my mind’s expectations, and just let my body float on up.
This was a pivotal moment. It seems dramatic, but I felt a huge mental shift. I began to wonder, “WHERE ELSE IN MY LIFE DOES THIS APPLY?”. I let it soak in. I was reminded of something Baron Baptiste wrote in his book, Journey into Power, “Don’t try hard. Try Easy”. When I first read this a few years ago, I felt like I understood what he meant intellectually. I had even experienced it after a few frustrating attempts at a Tree Pose that I couldn’t stay balanced in. I tried relaxing my face and jaw and then BOOM, found a steady Tree. Tree Pose has been a favorite of mine ever since. I can strike a Tree all day long. Here it was showing up again. My reminder to try easy. I started to see different areas of my life outside of my yoga practice where this could be helpful. Simple things like making dinner – that mad rush to get everything finished at the right time. Unnecessary struggle. Arbitrary time pressures that I put on myself that are not needed. Things I think have to be done a certain way or in a certain time frame. Struggling causes more tension and constriction and makes everything feel HARD. Trying easy is that state of mind in which you can give something your all, but not have it TAKE your all from you. It’s not about giving up your needs or giving into pressure from outside. It’s not about refusing to try something new or challenging. It’s about the internal struggle. You can enter into a challenge with a steady, anchored, and calm center. When you stop resisting, fighting and trying to push into something, or make something fit that doesn’t fit, you can relax and release into what comes.
Try easy. Drop the struggle. Where are you holding onto the struggle? Where do you have tension? Where are your “should dos” or “supposed to dos” leading to strain, pain, and anxiety? Where can you let go more? Where can you float?