Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Upside down

One thing I've been working on in both yoga and capoeira is handstands and related movements and poses. That includes aus (cartwheels) in capoeira and headstands in yoga.

A secret: Cartwheels are actually easier than balancing upside down. That's because in a cartwheel, your arms aren't really supporting much of your weight: Most of the work is coming from momentum. You could probably do a cartwheel, although it might not be pretty - the biggest obstacle is mental.

Just a few years ago in yoga, I was terrified of handstands. I wouldn't even try them against the wall. (Just ask Gillian, my yoga teacher.) Now I've gotten over that, but I still can't hold a freestanding handstand.

The problem isn't really arm and shoulder strength, although I could probably use more of that. It's balance, and that comes from the rest of the body, particularly the core. So I've been working on a few things that build up control in those muscles.

One move I've just recently gotten down is getting up into tripod headstand from a wide-legged standing position. (You can see what I mean in the first half of this video.) It's much easier to get up into tripod if your legs are together than if they are spread apart. And I was surprised to find out that the difficulty for me was in the outer thighs, rather than my arms or tummy.

Not surprisingly, though, various forms of handstands are the best practice. So is simply kicking up into handstand (as opposed to going down from standing), because you have to learn the right amount of force to use. Not enough, and you don't make it into a handstand. Too much and the momentum carries you beyond a handstand into landing on the other side, hopefully painlessly. This isn't a problem when you're practicing against the wall, but it is an issue when you're in the roda.

I'm not there yet. There's a feeling in an inversion where you know that you are balanced - not only are you not falling over, but you feel lighter. I know this sensation from headstands. Only recently have I begun to have those moments in handstands as well. While, alas, they don't last very long, they are very encouraging, because I can tell I'm getting better - even if no one else can see it.

So my long-term goal right now is something I can't do yet but hope to be able to do by August: Get into a handstand (and hold it) from a cartwheel. You're using momentum, yes, but you have to stop that momentum with entirely different muscles since you are falling sideways, not forward.

In the meantime, I'm working on balancing in handstand period; on kicking up with my right leg as reliably as my left, and doing au fechado, a cartwheel with the legs hugged into the body.

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