Each week smile in the sky feature a different yoga pose and 5 physical health benefits and 5 mental health benefits related to it
This week…handstand. [Sanskrit translation: Adho Mukha Vrksasana: adho mukha (downward facing), vrks (tree) asana (pose)].
Handstand is a pose almost everybody is familiar with. And yes, the picture above by no means shows handstand: it is an action shot in attempting it. I considered long and hard whether to include this pose as holding it eludes me thus far! I am not afraid to show my limitations. Many of us attempt Adho Mukha Vrksasana, and many are put off by the high potential for stacking it! If done correctly, with the right alignment, breathwork and strengthening, this is yoga. Attempting handstand a couple of drinks in at the Easter family get together – that’s just showing off!
As with all inversions, observe contraindications (glaucoma and high blood pressure are two conditions that are not recommended for inversions): always practice safety first.
Physical benefit: FACELIFT!
Inversions allow for increased blood flow to the face, head and brain. Increased oxygen in the blood can improve the appearance of skin and give us a healthy glow. Do you need any other reasons to try this pose?!
Mental benefit: INCREASE SELF-WORTH
The change of perspective from ‘I can’t’, to ‘I do’, in attempting a pose such as handstand, is very powerful. We often surprise ourselves with our abilities. Seeing what we are capable of might just be enough to acknowledge that you are not ‘your story’: the thoughts and beliefs you have told yourself may not be serving you anymore. So many of us suffer from low self-esteem: a shake-up of self perception is most definitely in order! See here for a simple exercise to reframe negative beliefs.
Physical benefit: LOWER BACK RELEASE
Inversions such as handstand, headstand and shoulderstand can allow for relief of back pain. Changing the distribution of weight when the legs aren’t taking the impact and weight of the body can allow release in the lower back.
Mental benefit: UNBRIDLED JOY!
It is very difficult to describe the childlike happiness, giggles and fun that can arise from attempting this pose. It’s so important to bring a lighthearted attitude to challenges, and this pose in particular tends to bring a silly grin to people’s faces. Give it a shot and experience it for yourself!
Mental benefit: OVERCOMING FEARS
Many people become nervous when the being upside down or falling, is a real possibility. The best (and only!), way to conquer your fears is by confronting them. Graded exposure, (gradually building up to handstand), is advised, rather than flooding: ie attempting to jump straight into it. However, everyone is different and sometimes a tumble is enough to pleasantly surprise you with what you are capable of, and what your body can bounce back from. See here for an interesting article about confronting fears to overcome anxiety.
Physical benefit: SHOULDER STRENGTHENING
After adequate warmup, use of the shoulders to hold the pose will create more stable shoulder joints. Ensure the tops of the shoulders are tracking away from the ears and are stacked in line with the wrists, fingers spread wide.
Physical benefit: WHOLE BODY TONING
Engagement of the biceps and triceps, core and length of the legs is necessary to maintain this pose. See this sequence to prepare for a safe handstand.
Mental benefit: RESILIENCE
The beauty in each pose comes from the hard work that has gone into working towards something for a long period of time, slowly chipping away at it, improving day by day. The commitment, dedication and drive required to master any pose may transfer to other areas of life. Building positive beliefs about your abilities is one aspect of improving resilience. See here for 10 ways to become more resilient.
Physical benefit: CARDIOVASCULAR HEALTH
This inversion allows for greater ease in draining blood from the legs, giving the heart a rest and relieving some of the pressure. See this detailed article for more information on the potential effects of inversions on the cardiovascular and lymphatic system.
Mental benefit: SELF-ACTUALISATION
It may seem like a big call to claim that a handstand can lead us to self-actualisation. Self actualization is a term introduced by Abraham Maslow, to refer to the growth of an individual toward fulfillment of the highest needs; those for meaning in life, in particular. Yoga practice may fulfil some “being” needs related to creative self-growth, developed from the fulfillment of our potential and finding meaning in life. See here for more on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
Don’t give in to your fears: believe in yourself. Find a safe preparatory sequence, develop your strength, and give handstand a go. Just be careful rocking it party-trick style: this is not yoga. Having said that when I manage to hold the pose for a minimum of five breaths consecutively and consistently I will be over the moon to showboat my achievements! That day will be cause for celebration. Give more a few more months, or years…the joy is in the journey.
To learn more about the mind-body connection and our services, including workshops for mental health, _yoga_, and research consultancy, please see www.smileinthesky.com
Next week… headstand [Sirsasana]