“You are old, father William,” the young man said,
And your hair has become very white;
And yet you incessantly stand on your head —
Do you think, at your age, it is right?”

“In my youth,” father William replied to his son,
“I feared it might injure the brain;
But, now that I’m perfectly sure I have none,
Why, I do it again, and again.”

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Lewis Carroll

Instead of running … Years ago, before I could do a handstand, I would dream of setting the world record in the mile — on my hands. I don’t think that will happen. I can do a handstand now but I don’t think I’m any closer to moving while upside-down than I was five years ago.

Today my yoga class was devoted to handstands. That is to say, we spent almost an hour limbering up the shoulders and such, and then spent 10 minutes or so doing handstands.

Our teacher wanted us to pay attention to how we breathed as we went into handstand. Did we jump up on an inhale, an exhale, or did we hold our breath. Now I’d never paid much attention to breathing when I was entering handstand. It’s hard enough (for me) to get there without thinking of something else. But I can recall that once the initial jump was done, but I was still moving up, I would occasionally notice I was holding my breath.

I tend to hold my breath when doing fiddly things. When I’m doing a delicate pull in pottery I will hold my breath, because breathing causes a slight shake and I don’t want that shake to end up in the clay (I have read of people who do really precise work and who time their movements so their heartbeat doesn’t cause a shake). It occurred to me that the slight perturbation caused by breathing might add an extra wobble to my balance, so it would be easier to go up when the lungs were still.

She had us kick up into handstand first on the left foot and an inhale, then on the right foot and an inhale, then on the left foot and an exhale, then the right foot and an exhale, the left foot holding the breath, then right. Then we got to rest.

Kicking up into handstand off the left foot

Kicking up into handstand off the left foot

As we rested she asked us what we’d noticed, which was easier. Well it was really hard to even get into handstand when concentrating on my breathing, and it got progressively harder as I got more tired. That sort of masked any differences in the breath patterns as far as I could tell.

Then she told us to try kicking off with both legs (which is harder). Inhale up (or half up, handstand from the waist down, but with knees flexed), then exhale to extend the legs, inhale hold, exhale down, and repeat for a total of three handstands. Then pause and rest. Then 3 more times going up with both legs but on the exhale.

My hands were getting sweaty and I started to worry that they’d slide out from under me and I’d crash down on my nose. They didn’t, of course, but I still worried.

As I think of it now, in the calm as I write this, what makes sense to me is that I should exhale before going up — this firms up the core muscles and provides stability — and then hold my breath as I work to find my balance.

But I’ve discovered that I’d rather do forearm balance

Kicking up into forearm balance off the left foot.

Kicking up into forearm balance off the left foot.

Sigh. But with the forearms flat on the ground, it’s even harder to run a mile up-side-down.


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