I took the bait on a Facebook ad and signed up for a yoga teacher's newsletter.
The bait: "THREE TIPS TO FINALLY NAILING HANDSTAND!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
Ok, so there were't that many exclamation points, but you get the idea, I fell for it. I got a few emails of his, read a few blogs... One of the emails he sent was a podcast of an interview he did with another yoga teacher who was known for his very advanced practice. For some reason I put the podcast on while I was eating lunch one day, I can't remember what compelled me (better than staring at my phone?) The first question he asked this guy was how often do you practice and what does it consists of?
I almost spit out my food at the guys response.
He said he spent two hours everyday working on handstand alone and another hour or so for the rest of his yoga practice.
TWO HOURS. EVERYDAY. ON HANDSTAND.
I turned the interview off. Incredulous! Ridiculous! Guffaw! Snort! Eye roll!
It got me considering a few things...
Is two hours of daily handstand practice "yoga"?
More broadly should we (I) be practicing handstand (or any other pose we're striving for) every day?
I do not spend two hours on handstand everyday. I don't practice everyday. I wondered if I didn't have a child, a dog, a fixer upper, a husband or friends or a job if I would spend two hours everyday just practicing handstand. Pretty sure the answer would still be no.
I suppose we are all different kinds of people. Maybe this guy is the kind of person that has the energy and stamina for this kind of practice, and his hours spent practicing somehow fills him up rather than depleting him. Maybe he needs that disciple to thrive.
I've always lacked discipline. I'm a go-with-the-flow kind of gal. Procrastination got me into trouble in my younger years. I've since learned to manage it and now enjoy "getting shit done" but I have to really psych myself up for it, plan a day or few in advance that X day is going to be a get shit done day. I make lists. I cross things off.
Perhaps I need more discipline? I practice maybe 4x/week, usually at home, though I seem to go through ebbs and flows of energy, some months practicing at home daily other just in group classes a few times a week. And home practice is different from led practice. I think home practice requires more energy overall, even if the led practice is super challenging (thanks, Anthony Thomasi!) since I'm using creative energy to direct my body, plus do the physical work to move my body. Home practice usually lasts about 50 minutes. In a led practice, someone else is in charge, telling me what to do, the conductor of the orchestra, keeping time, setting the rhythm (thats what conductors do , right?), though I'm still playing the instrument, part of my brain gets a break.
I spend some time practicing handstand, definitely not two hours worth, more like 10 minutes worth, spread out over the course of my home practice. I hear A LOT that if you want to "nail the pose" you have to practice it everyday.
I struggled with this idea a lot last summer when I was working on pinch mayurasana (forearm balance). I was juuuust starting to have some hang time in the pose. I tried practicing it everyday. Meaning I would just get on the mat and try the pose, nothing else. I found that trying to do the pose with out a warm up, with out having taken the time to center and connect was never successful. The times when I actually had done a practice, or gone to class, I was connected to my breath and IN my body, I was more succesful.
Those times where I was just focused on "nailing the pose" I would get so frustrated. Why can't I? Whats wrong with me? I should be able to do this. I suck.
Compared to when I would try during a home practice or led practice, I felt light. I felt hopeful. I felt like I was beginning to be familiar with this pose. I felt positive.
There are so many definitions of yoga. Maybe spending two ours a day on handstand IS one of them.
Though in my person experience, this kind of work has yet to bear fruit. In fact, I found it to be quite poisonous.
I stopped practicing pincha everyday. Instead I did it every time I went to my mat for a full practice and eventually that work bore the fruit of balancing on my forearms.
Have you ever heard people talk about how the more you want something the less likely you are to get it? The times I was trying to do it everyday was so desperate for THE POSE, the focus was on the pose not the practice, not the journey, not the reason I do yoga. The reason I do yoga is not to balance on my hands. That would be gymnastics. Yoga has taught me to be comfortable in my own skin, to pause before reacting, its taught me patience, dedication, mindfulness, compassion and facing fear. It is constantly revealing my weaknesses and my ego and demands that I be open. It feels good, its fun and interesting and never-ending. The postures I'm working on now are simply my natural progression of the physical practice. When I make it all about achieving some particular shape it all goes to shit.
Or maybe this all just really great excuse to not practice daily because I lack discipline.
In the midst of writing this article (as a previous post stated, it makes me a month or so) I read a blog by my friend Lauren. (read them all, she's wonderful). And she wrote this:
"I’ve been [rock] climbing for a decade. What I think of as a long climb is thousands of feet- because I’ve accustomed myself to the act of climbing and I have endurance. You would think that my opinion is extreme, but extremes even are relative. There’s no middle path that isn’t subjective. I also believe there’s no growth without extremes. Growth is often paired with extremes, one’s edge, risk, uncertainty."
There is a lot more goodness in this blog but this one seemed to speak specifically to me and this topic.
I think she basically sums all of my ruminating up perfectly. Two-hour-handstand-man seems extreme to me and I probably seem extreme to someone else. Crap happens when we take one individual's edge and try to make it our own with out having spent the time cultivating the endurance needed to sustain existing on that edge. I was in a class recently and the teacher described this as a form steya, or stealing. (Asteya is the 4th of the Yamas and means non-stealing.)
I say all of this as a reminder, mostly to myself, We are often our own worst critic. And, as a teacher, I sometimes feel like I need to do press handstand in order to be "successful". (More on that to come). I don't know two-hour-handstand-man's story. There are most likely months-worth of time spent building the endurance for two hours of daily handstand work. And perhaps one day I might reach that point. But right now I find that simply hopping on my mat for concentrated pose work is not beneficial, even though I've heard plenty of people say "you HAVE to practice it every day". Because, really, you don't. Be disciplined, yes. Be diligent, yes. Challenge yourself, explore your edge, face your fears and failures, yes, yes, yes. Keep practicing yoga, not just the postures. Try and try and try some more. And before you know it, you'll be climbing for hours.