Today’s blog post is from blogger (yogi, yoga teacher, mother and my friend), Daisy Whittemore, RYT. You can see Daisy teaching at extendYoga and handstanding away for the next 100-ish days. Handstands seem scary to many (definitely to me!), but here’s a fun way to conquer your fears and really commit to nailing your handstand– or any pose that you are working towards.
Check out the Handstand Challenge, the Okinawan Way—120 days to work on your handstand…
Hello beautiful extendYogis! Two very smart, sweet, and powerful extendYoga friends have recently started a 120 day handstand challenge. Yes. 120 days! Of course, I love a challenge, and I am really loving the idea of a longer challenge than the usual Instagram monthlies, or my previous nagging about the magic of 40 days. I also love the simplicity and focus of one pose, as many of you already know about me. So, I am taking the challenge with them, as have several other extendYogis. We all thought it would be fun to expand the community and see if others want to join in the fun, and provide some sweet kula support for each other. Of course, these two awesome handstand advocates are one of your fellow students, the beautiful and and amazing Adam Drescher, as well as the beautiful and amazing Lika, who most of you know, and if you haven’t been to one of her classes yet, well, you must go, like today. It was prompted from several conversations at the studio, a desire to get better at their handstands, and Adam was reminded of a challenge from his martial artist days.
The full details of the Ancient Okinawan Handstand Challenge are below, as written by Adam, followed by some additional instructions and thoughts from me. You must start your 120 days before the end of September to participate. If you are interested, please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org with your full name and the start date. If you have any questions, feel free to ask me, or Lika Elwood. Adam has said he will make very cool mementos for everyone who signs up.
PLEASE NOTE: You don’t need to be able to do a handstand in the middle of the room, or even at the wall to participate. There are other options, which I have included below. As well, I am providing some thoughts and attention to warming up and caring for our bodies, especially our wrists and our shoulders, during this challenge. Be smart, yogis. Use this as an opportunity to provide yourself with more love and care, not less. Don’t use this “challenge” to beat yourself up, physically or emotionally! Please.
What is the Ancient Okinawan Handstand Challenge?
Hundreds of years ago, Okinawan martial arts masters created a most unusual training methodology. They started with the notion that performing a complex and challenging exercise (with complete sincerity) a certain number of times per day for a certain number of days will “change your blood.” What is meant by this is as follows: blood is the sacred fluid of life. A complex exercise performed in this manner will change not only the body and mind but will also cause a shift within the functioning of the practitioner’s central nervous system. After trial and error the masters concluded that the optimal formula is to repeat such an exercise three times per day for a period of 120 consecutive days.
Note that it has been explained that the actual number of days required if the exercise were to be performed with perfect sincerity would be 108. In Buddhism and Hinduism this is a sacred number. It is considered to be a “semi-perfect” number. 108 represents 9 dozen. Due to the fact that humans are imperfect and incapable of performing with perfect sincerity the masters demanded 10 dozen days of repetitions to compensate for human imperfection in efforts. Thus, there is in point of fact a method to the madness – a magic to the number if you will.
Rules of the Challenge
The practitioner is to perform three handstand “sets” each and every day for 120 days. For the sake of balance, a “set” will mean two handstands – one handstand from a standing split with the left leg rising first and a second from a standing split with the right leg rising first. The sets can be done at any time in a 24 hour period. They can be done all at once or one in the morning, one at lunch, one at night – or any which way at all. As long as they are done every 24 hours. In other words, the practitioner is to perform 6 handstands per day (no more) for 120 consecutive days for a grand total of 720 handstands.
If the practitioner fails to perform the three sets on any day of the challenge then he or she must start over from day one. This is critical to the experience.
As with all aspects of practice, safety comes first and foremost. For this reason, the handstand challenge is not a “for time” exercise. To do handstands for long periods of time under some of the conditions that might arise during 120 consecutive days could prove dangerous. The practitioner is encouraged during this challenge to work through illness, congestion, headaches, emotional disturbance, etc. To attempt long handstand holds during challenging physical or emotional times could be dangerous. Danger or risk of injury is not part of the program.
This exercise is about transitions into the handstand – not about endurance. The goal is to smoothly transition up into the handstand, get steady and balanced if you can (however long that takes – 2 seconds, 5 seconds, maybe 10) and then come out of it with control. Advanced practitioners can choose other methods of getting up into and out of the handstand. But, let it be clear that this challenge is not about holding the handstand for long periods of time. It is about transitioning into and out of the handstand with grace and ease.
Those who need it are encouraged to use a wall to prevent themselves from falling.
What can the student expect to experience?
At some point during the 120 days a student will likely experience what it would be like if yoga became equal to their very top priorities in life. This is because the further into the challenge one gets the bigger the stakes become if a day is missed.
Note that a set of two handstands might take only 20 seconds or so. Then a moment of rest and repeat twice. So we might only be talking about two or three minutes of work a day here, after appropriate warm up. But, these few minutes along with the challenging posture that is the handstand will be more than enough to put the experience into a student’s head – that for 120 days, making yoga is a priority in my life. This in itself is a unique experience that is well worth having.
The challenge indicates going into handstand from standing splits, but acknowledges other methods and indicates wall support is okay. There are many other options to build your handstand practice. I am providing videos of some of them. Of course, if you have an advanced handstand practice, do your practice, focus on transitioning in and out, and be sure to lead with both feet evenly over the course of the challenge. For a demonstration on how to do handstand with the support of a wall, from downward dog, check out my video below:
Or go to http://vimeo.com/105925567
For a demonstration of how to transition into handstand without wall support, from standing splits, I did this outside in the tall, soft grass. It is clumsy and poor Charlie gets a mean kick on the nose, but it will give you an idea of the practice. As you will see, I am still a big chicken this way and rarely get my foot high enough for fear of tipping over. Perhaps in 120 days, I will be a little bit better. For the moment, I get scared. Maybe I can convince a braver soul to let me videotape them so you can get a better idea. (Also coming soon: I will work on another video to come where I show a good strategy for falling out of handstand into a cartwheel-like exit.) See below:
Or go to: http://vimeo.com/105921644
For those of you who aren’t yet ready for a handstand, there is a half arm balance variation that may be more accessible to you. You could do this as your challenge for the entire 120 days, or perhaps you start with this, and as you get stronger and more confident, you could transition into full arm balance. See half arm balance demonstration below:
Or go to: http://vimeo.com/105925314
CARING FOR YOURSELF DURING THE CHALLENGE
According to the challenge, the focus is transitioning into and out of 6 hand stands per day. These can be done in sets, e.g., 3 sets a day over the course of the day. Or during one practice. No matter how you decide to slice up your work, 120 days is a long time. Please take good care of yourself. How?
WARM UP. Please do something to warm yourself up prior to your practice. A few sun salutations, shoulder openers, wrist warm ups. We will periodically post tips and ideas to help you along your journey, beginning with a little wrist love next week.
PRACTICE WITH INTENTION AND WITH CARE FOR YOUR ALIGNMENT
—Always be mindful of how you place your hands on the mat. I have written a whole blog on placing your hands on your mat in your practice. The key is to place hands shoulder width apart, lining wrist creases up with the front of your mat, or slightly turned out (but never turned in), and anchor yourself firmly down in the mound of your index finger, energetically drawing your thumb and forefinger toward each other. Spread fingers wide, like the rays of the sun, and press the tips of your first finger pads (under your nail bed) down. Keep that throughout. It is critical for your wrist health, and to maintain good shoulder alignment that you do NOT onto outer edges of hands or wrists.
—Position your shoulders over your wrists, hugging your forearms toward each other, elbow creases turn slightly forward, and create a broadness in your chest, shoulders plugged in and powerful. This is a sturdy, stable base. Keep it as you transition up, try to find your balance, and come back down.
—Gaze between your hands throughout.
—Be mindful of your feet too. Engaged feet when they are off the ground, flexed, pointed of flointed (in between and point and a flex, sort of like Barbie feet). In my videos, my feet aren’t always engaged, especially when I am kicking up without a wall. This is not good.
—Allow some rest between sets.
FOLLOW THE GUIDELINES. Also, please remember as you practice, this is NOT a timed handstand challenge. It is NOT about holding the handstand for long periods of time. It is about transitioning into and out of the handstand with grace and ease. Moreover, no matter how psyched and/or frustrated you may get over the course of the challenge, try to avoid overdoing it, e.g., try to avoid doing a lot more than the challenge indicates. This is like a marathon. Use your life force wisely. That is not to say, 6 and no more, never ever, but try to avoid my mistake of eager beaver on the second day and kicking up about 40 times or more. It made the two days afterward a little rough.
BE KIND. As mentioned, please don’t use this challenge as an opportunity to get down on yourself or overtax your body or mind. This is an opportunity for growth, not another opportunity to brow beat yourself.
JOIN THE CHALLENGE
If you want to join the challenge, please email me (Daisy, aka Yoga Nag) at email@example.com with your full name and your start date. I will keep a running list of who is participating, and post it at extendYoga so you know who your challenge buddies are.
As always, do yoga. Today. Everyday.
Peace and pauses,
Yoga Nag, aka, Daisy Whittemore
Daisy Whittemore is a mom, wife, writer, yogi, yoga teacher and recent blogger on a quest for life’s pauses: for the sweet spots—those moments, oftentimes slippery little cracks in the foundation of our daily lives—that give us pause (that don’t take our breath away) but give us breath. She hopes to encourage herself and those around her to find a little more pause in each day for silence, yoga, creativity, love, play, pleasure, or whatever it is that restores you. You can find Daisy on her website: Yoga Nag and her Facebook page.