If Life Has You Down, Do a Handstand

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Do you feel like the world is upside-down?

Try a handstand.


In fact, the more uncertain, angry, fearful or confused you feel, the more you need to plant your hands on the ground, kick your feet directly above you, and let all those negative emotions drain right back into the earth.

My earliest handstands were in my backyard. Mostly I remember giggling because my favorite pink shirt would flop over my head each time I kicked up. I was 5, maybe 6. My three older sisters were all gymnasts at the local YMCA and they manhandled me through cartwheels and flips. It felt like I was flying. When I got old enough, I became a gymnast at the Y, too. I’ve been doing handstands ever since.

As a kid, handstands were about showmanship. The longer I could hold my handstand on the beam, the better score I would earn from the gymnastics judges. I was a shy kid, a wallflower really. I couldn’t stop classmates from making fun of me for all the cruel reasons children make fun of each other. But on the beam in my handstand, I was an 11-year-old girl with power. I was in control.

At 42, the middle-age angst of realizing that I control next to nothing has caught up to me. These days, I practice handstands as a way to let go. A handstand is all about reconnecting with the ground and trusting it in a new way — a white flag of surrender planted in the soil, hands first.

In our most vulnerable times, we tend to look up, whether for a prayer or a primal scream. We search out a higher something in the clouds, scanning the inky blue horizon for any sign of help. It feels like truth is above us and we are stuck on the ground, unable to figure out where we fit in.

On more than one occasion, I have thrown my arms wide up to the sky, feeling helpless.

Each time, the thing that has helped me most is to plant them back on the ground, press them hard into the concrete, carpet, grass or yoga mat and reclaim some of the most basic truths that we live under, but are not part of governing.

The ground is the ground.

Gravity is gravity.

What goes up must come down.

We live these truths with our feet every day. But you can really feel them with your hands.

Handstands allow you to see the world in a new way. If you have been upright nearly every moment of your life and then you are upside-down — well, that feels different. Your body experiences space with a new orientation. That experience alone is a worthwhile endeavor, because seeing the world differently for a minute can sometimes put the right-sided world in perspective.

The other thing is this: Handstands are fun. They open up your shoulders, rush the blood to your head in a wonderful way, and provide a terrific core challenge. The feeling of steadying yourself with your hands, your body stretched out glorious above you, with legs long and straight, or bent or split or in a stag — it is freedom of movement, and you are unhinged in the best possible meaning of the word.

I contend that most people can learn to do a handstand. You need strength in your arms and core, but not as much as you might think, especially if you have a wall behind you to kick up against. (I definitely recommend a wall until you understand how to fall out of a handstand without landing on your bum.)

If you can do a few push-ups and you have semi-healthy wrists and it’s O.K., health-wise, for you to be inverted, you can learn to do a handstand. In my weekly yoga class, I have watched numerous people of various shapes, sizes and ages learn to do handstands through kicking up a little bit harder each time. If a class isn’t your style, there are plenty of YouTube videos out there with tips. Kerri Verna (beachyogagirl on Instagram) has a particularly great “learn to handstand” series. And Well’s Yoga to Make You Strong guide offers advice on how to do a half or full handstand (see below).

Every time I witness someone in yoga trying to balance upside-down for the first time ever, or the first time in many, many years, my soul sends them a smile. Yes, try it! Try again! Kick a little harder! You are almost there! I want it for them, because I know what awaits at the top: the glory of the ground.

Will the ground save us from ourselves? Of course not. And that is the beauty of adorning it with a handstand.

Plant your hands, teeter-totter your way up and breathe it in. I’ll see you there.