Kristi Johnson shares her journey into handstands.
In the last month, I have taught two Upside Down workshops, primarily meaning handstands and forearm balances.
Most people getting into yoga are keen as beans to either learn to do a handstand, or refine their ‘upside down’ practice by exploring the next step to finding their balance. I get a lot of out of teaching on this subject as well. I love going upside down myself, but I also really get inspired by watching others find that ‘Ah ha’ moment; that moment of innocent surprise when they discover strength, lightness, balance, and freedom in the midst of their upside down experience.
The sequence of these workshops, regardless of the level they are aimed at, can offer anyone the tools needed for floating, flying, and finding balance while playing upside down, simultaneously breaking down the barriers to get there. Those barriers can be anything from limiting thoughts and beliefs, to lack of confidence in the self, or fears and distrust.
My energy for these workshops has been inspired by my own journey going upside down. The year before last, I committed to join in on a 365 day Forrest Yoga Handstand Challenge. I was hesitant, at first. When I commit to things, I like to see it through, and part of the requirement of this challenge was to take pictures and videos of myself doing them, which I wasn’t overly keen on. It wasn’t until a student messaged me and asked whether I was doing it that I felt the pressure to lead by example, and decided to say yes.
That 365 day challenge completely shifted my practice. Having people take photos of me, and taking videos of myself created a whole new enquiry into how I was working with my body. I was able to understand more clearly where my imbalances were, where my tension was held, and to where my weight needed to be shifted. I also found that I was limiting myself by continually using the wall. I needed to trust that I had the balance and strength, and lose the fear that I might fall right over onto my back.
To ‘share’ on social media was also a challenge. There is vulnerability in showing yourself in a slightly imperfect form, and I was aware of the ridicule of yogis sharing pictures of themselves on social media. After my 365 days, I learned to see it as a documented version of a self practice, which can be inspiring and educational for many.
Throughout this year, I committed to going upside down every day. That doesn’t mean I did a million handstands in the middle of the room. Some days that simply meant walking my feet up the wall so that my body was at a 90-degree angle. With your hands on the floor (Down Dog on the Wall), or with the Forearms on the floor (Dolphin on the Wall), you can do these incredible strengthening exercises. They are a great way to explore going upside down if you are new to it, and a fabulous way to connect to the breath in this position, too. For me, these versions provide a great release on my lower back and sacrum. If you lift your hips up, use Uddiyana (belly lift), and knit the lower ribs into the body — it is so lengthening for the spine and so yummy on the lower back.
As I continue with my upside down practice day to day, I feel myself get stronger, more balanced, more controlled and much more gutsy. Not just on the mat, but in my daily life too. You have to risk falling over!
Handstands and Forearm balances build up a real rhythm of playfulness as well. I have done handstands in London, Scotland, Berlin, Italy, New Zealand, in front of the Swiss Alps, in the forest, on the main street, in the park, on the beach, under and in trees, on hill tops, and in my PJ’s. One of my favourite things while doing the challenge was asking random passerby’s on the street to take a photo of me. The look on their face was absolutely priceless when I planted my hands on the pavement and said, “take it when I’m up!” It definitely initiated some fun interactions and injected something special into the day.
So what are you waiting for? Get upside down with me during my next retreat!
This post was written by Kristi Johnson, a certified Forrest Yoga Teacher based in London. She first discovered yoga in her native New Zealand. She traveled to Hong Kong and China in 2003 where she explored more deeply the physical, emotional, and spiritual practice of yoga. Kristi qualified as an Anusara Yoga teacher and began teaching at PURE Yoga in Hong Kong.
It is through Forrest Yoga that Kristi found healing, and discovered the true power; and beauty that had unfolded in her own life. Practice Kristi’s live classes and workshops from anywhere with her online videos.