When I was in an inversion workshop, the instructor started by telling us that handstands were more about changing your perspective than an acrobatic feat to be achieved. I rolled my eyes and thought yeah yeah ... just show me how to nail the perfect handstand!
I think her exact words were,
When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.
Basically: when life gets hard, when you don’t understand, or when you’ve generally spent too much time throwing your hands into the air in exhausted surrender… get upside down.
Though I might have rolled my eyes at the time, she was right. Handstands are so much more than a difficult asana pose. The benefits far surpass anything gained from merely getting into the posture or showing off your skills on Instagram.
Handstands are an incredibly powerful way to see the world through new eyes. They are emblematic of the transformation that comes after a revival in perspective. They are all about seeing things in a new way that is lifegiving and laced with the energy of renewal. Turning your whole world upside down gives you the space to re-imagine your purpose, your values, your life.
Though handstands were not one of the original 15 hatha yoga postures, they are an integral part of a sturdy asana practice for a reason. This pose engages the whole body and works synergistically to deliver benefits to both body and mind. It is not clear exactly when headstands and handstands made their way into our modern yoga practice. However, it is widely accepted that handstands have not been around since the “dawn of yoga time,” (5,000 years ago!).
The Sanskrit scholar and hatha yoga teacher Norman Sjoman wrote a book called The Yoga Tradition of the Mysore Palace. This book was an unearthing of an earlier text, originating from the 1800s called Sritattvanidhi. The Sritattvanidhi holds extremely elaborate descriptions and illustrations of poses compared to other pre-twentieth century texts. It includes instructions for 122 yoga poses that are practiced regularly in Hatha and Ashtanga practices today, including backbends, lotus variations, foot-behind-the-head poses, and you guessed it, handstands!
Some believe that handstands are a twentieth-century integration as yoga has become increasingly focused on strength and mastery of alignment, but this text suggests that handstands have been a part of a dynamic yoga practice for over a century.
When you strip it down, there are two major blocks keeping yogis from getting into handstands consistently.
First, they do not take the time to build up the necessary arm and shoulder strength and the second major block is they do not trust their body enough to get their hips over their head.