Just over 100 days ago, I decided to take on the Forrest Yoga 365-day Handstand Challenge. This means doing some kind of inversion (anything but a headstand, we don’t really do those in Forrest Yoga) every day for a year….

I can handstand and forearm balance at the wall, but I knew the challenge would be physically difficult. I’m now a third of the way through and I’ve had many ups and downs — more so than I ever thought. I’ve had euphoric moments, laughter and low points, all of which have taught me something. I thought I’d share a few of my light-bulb moments with you…

Why handstand?

When I was about 6 or 7, I remember doing handstands every break-time in the summer on the school field. I don’t remember there being any fear of falling or of hurting myself. That’s certainly changed! All the girls would line up in the field and do synchronised handstands. We had little blue checked summer pinafore dresses on and white socks, all in row, in uniform. I don’t remember thinking twice about flashing my knickers…. such playful innocence. That’s one reason that I love to get upside down (ha, not to show my knickers, I’ve got leggings to avoid that), but to tap into a state of being that as adults we don’t regularly get to express. Drunkenness or ‘entertaining’ young children are often our ‘excuse’ for playful behaviour. It’s been refreshing to just handstand whenever the mood takes me. For the moment that you’re upside down, you get to feed your inner child. Most of us still have an inner child and I know now that if I neglect mine, I get cranky and a little bit sad. There’s also something quite naughty about being an adult and doing a handstand somewhere unexpected. It’s kind of a turn-on!

The 365-day handstand challenge has many layers — fun is just one of those. For me, fear is a huge part of the challenge. Fear of taking my feet off the floor, fear of being upside down, fear of falling, fear of hurting myself. Every time I handstand away from the wall, fear comes up for me and that’s an interesting feeling to dance with when you’ve committed to going to that fearful place EVERY DAY! As the days have progressed, I’ve begun to realise that when I hit the ‘fear of falling and hurting myself’ point, I do a few habitual things: I lose concentration, which makes me fall; I lose the integrity of the pose, which aggravates my shoulder; and I get angry and frustrated at myself for STILL not being able to hold my handstand confidently away from the wall.

How you are on the mat is how you are off it

I see it all the time in my classes — people struggling, giving themselves a hard time, comparing themselves to the rest of the class, worrying, disconnecting from their bodies….. the distraction list goes on. The more I’ve coached and talked to my students about this, and worked through my own ‘stuff’, the more I know the on/off mat correlation to be true. For the most part in my own yoga practice, I use my breath and focus to overcome the hurdles on the mat. But, in inversions more often than not, I get sucked into the distractions. It’s the same in my everyday life. Most of the time, these days, when I hit a challenging situation, I’m calm, I take big fulfilling breaths (I’m not bothered whether people think I’m odd for doing it) and I can resolve whatever’s going on without getting stressed. Then there are those occasional ‘other’ moments — the handstand away from the wall moments…

Flunking out

A few weeks ago, I caught myself hitting the fear wall in the middle of my handstand practice. I was doing the usual frustration thing. My shoulder started hurting, the left side of my neck tightened and it was impossible to go upside down without feeling uncomfortable in some way. That of course perpetuated the frustration. I pushed though for a couple more handstands and felt myself getting more and more annoyed. That then triggered my other fear. One that I like to bury deep inside…. Fear of not being good enough. Wow. There it was — my eureka moment. In my life and on the yoga mat, when the fear of not being good enough creeps in, I flunk out. It’s funny really, I’m pretty intense and passionate about the things I love and believe in. Flunking out has never been something that I associate with myself, but I do it — I flunk out on me. When I’m feeling insecure about something, which isn’t often, but it does happen — I get stupid and lose contact with my body and my instinct. This seems to only happen when I’m working on inversions on my own too. When I’m partnered up, no problem. I can do anything when I have the support of someone else — there’s no fear of falling or failing.

I can translate that into a pattern in my life… When I know my sh*t, when I know I can do something, when I am confident — I am driven, impassioned, unstoppable! But if there’s even an inkling that I won’t be able to achieve what I set out to do FIRST TIME I get pissy with myself. I’m naturally a fast learner, so when something doesn’t click straight away for me, I find it hard to handle. “Why can’t I get this”, “what’s wrong with me” etc, etc.

Physical pain

There’s another element too, and this has to do with my (pre-Forrest Yoga) shoulder injury and slight curvature in the spine. On a physical level my left side isn’t as strong as my right. My hip and ribs on the left curve towards one-another. I find it difficult to engage the left side of my torso and activate the whole of serratus anterior. Instead, what activates is my left trapezius. That tightens my neck and switches on a whole load of achy pain. That pain is draining and constant reminder that I got fearful….and stupid — and that is something that I want to change. So, for the past couple of weeks, I’ve been doing things differently. Here’s what:

Working on not being stupid!

It’s funny as I was typing this, I realised that I’ve been ‘doing’ the 4 pillars of Forrest Yoga.

1) USE BREATH — Breathe into tight spots, breathe through the fear. I know this works because I’ve used it so many times before to shift things in life and in poses. Now I’m consciously tapping into my breath in inversions.

2) BUILD STRENGTH — Focusing on connecting to the Serratus Anterior muscles. Building the foundation of what I need to support myself upside-down. I would actually get the feeling in some handstand poses that I couldn’t support myself. That exacerbated fear! If I build strength I’m less fearful. In life? Not leaping into something without the right strength and support is a good place for me to start. As I’ve said in blogs before, I was a burn-out queen so getting support measures in place like giving myself enough time to eat, rest, practice yoga and play is a good move!

3) WORK WITH INTEGRITY — As soon as I lose integrity in the pose (i.e. the trapizius takes over) I now come out of the pose and do something that helps to regain the connection to serratus. How does that fair up in life? Well, if I feel like I’m out of my depth, lacking energy/enthusiasm, or forcing myself into something that’s a struggle, I back off and evaluate! If this sounds like you — breathe deeply and do something that connects you to your strength. Maybe that’s as simple as cooking a meal that nourishes you completely or perhaps writing down 5 things that went well today. Then go back to the problem with your integrity in tact, it usually looks and feels very different.

4) BRIGHTEN YOUR SPIRIT — All of this self-evaluation can bog you down — if you let it. Every day I’m learning about my strengths and my challenges. I know that I need to shift my perspective so that I don’t get too wrapped up in the ‘what needs improving’. I don’t want to forget the fun element of the 365-day handstand challenge! Here’s how I’ve shifted my energy:

The day that I got massively frustrated, actually to the point of tears (eek!), I decided to change something. I did all of the above and then I slung on shuffle on my ipod. Back in Black by AC/DC happened to come on. “Yes, I’m back — Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah” 🙂 After a bit of a rock out to the tune, I did a handstand without touching the wall. My husband walked into the room and saw me there — surprised — I was standing on my hands, away from the wall for at least 5 or 6 seconds. I had climbed out of my bog and changed my perspective. It felt good, it felt playful, it felt pain-free, it felt fearless, it was euphoric, I was having fun again!

My handstands are still work in progress, as is life. I am getting stronger and I’m pacing myself. My left torso is lengthening out and I’m no longer willing to let myself get bogged down in fear. As soon as I feel that happening, I know that I have the skills and the choice do things differently.

I never imagined that the Forrest Yoga 365 Handstand Challenge would be such a roller coaster of feelings, discovery and fun! What I do know is that the more I can steady myself when I’m upside down on the mat, the more confident I’ll be to calmly navigate the times when it fees like my world is being turned upside-down. Aho to the next 200 or so days.

So who’s up for joining the challenge? 🙂

Forrest Yoga 365-day Handstand Challenge You don’t even have to be able to do a handstand yet…. that’s all part of the journey.

Charlie Speller Forrest Yoga teacher in Twisted Root handstand. Charlie Speller Forrest Yoga teacher handstand in pyjamas

Forrest Yoga teacher Charlie Speller in Handstand as part of the Forrest Yoga 365 Day challenge Charlie Speller, London & Swindon Forrest Yoga teacher in handstand at Forrest Yoga retreat Tuscany Double handstand, Charlie Speller in Seattle. Charlie Speller Forrest Yoga teacher, London, Swindon, Bath, Oxford in handstand with a totem.

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