Stiffing myself in handstand

Easing into the pose, with Desiree's help

Last night at the hatha yoga class at Thrive, we were working towards handstand (Adho Mukha Vrksasana), Peacock (Pincha Mayurasana)  and other inversions. I’ve learned that I can get into a handstand if I don’t think about it too much. Last night, my head was in overdrive so I only made it up once in eight tries. Not too good.

What I did right was slow down and try to understand why it was so hard for me. I have always had tight shoulders and that was the easy explanation, but feel short of allowing me to visualize what was happening. I tried to see myself with my eyes closed going through the prep from down dog pose (Adho Mukha Svanasana) and then the kick up.  I saw that my shoulders were locking up well before getting vertical. That meant that my legs were always going to be 10-25 degrees off from vertical. The only way I could get into handstand was my throwing my butt into the wall.

I had this image of fighting against myself, like arm wrestling: between gravity and my own resistance, I was bound to lose. I also sensed that it was more than just inadequate arm position. My whole rib cage was tightening up, and that was hampering my breathing. No wonder I found myself fighting to regain my breath after a half dozen attempts to kick up.

This new awareness also confirms something else: under stress, my shoulders tend to hunch up, a type of shrug in which my neck gets shorter as my rib cage rides up my spine.

Another curious angle is that in wheel pose (Urdhva Dhanurasana), which also requires a broadened chest, loose shoulders and arms shutting up (down, really) by the ears, I don’t have an issue with getting locked in a compromised position, after five years of struggles. I think I am aided by the nature of the pose, which requires me to arch against the muscular tension in my chest, shoulders and back.

Note: the photo above is from a Rumbaugh workshop at Thrive in January 2009, not last night’s class.