Guest Blogger Adrian Dunn is a contributor to EverydayHealth.com and an American College of Sports Medicine Certified Personal Trainer, Wellness Coach, and Fitness Coach.
My fitness practice has always gone in spurts–yoga classes, dance exercise, running, and more recently, a strength routine at the gym. Some of this and some of that, but nothing very consistent. Because of that, I have tended to gravitate to the kind of exercise that I am naturally good at, that uses the innate skills I already have–rhythm, flexibility, sociable group classes. I have avoided activities that seriously challenge myself in the areas that I am weak. But that changed when I went through a major life transition.
I had unexpectedly lost my job, which created uncertainty and the necessity to choose again. No longer tied to a desk for 40 hours, I now had the time to get more fit than I had been in years. I chose to challenge myself with a vigorous, Anusara yoga practice along with exploring other exercises through Everyday Health’s My Calorie Counter app, which I had never tried before despite the fact that I work with the brand. The yoga class started off with the usual standing poses, forward bends, and back-bends. Since these poses drew on my strong legs and flexibility, I was able to move into them easily. But then we had a class of inversions that included handstands. This was not territory that was comfortable to me. I didn’t do upside down! I never even did cartwheels as a kid.
I watched in trepidation as the men in the class flipped themselves up into handstands, lining up along the wall. Their naturally strong shoulders allowed them to look effortless and elegant upside down. I, on the other hand, had always had a relatively weak upper body, smaller than my lower body. Long, thin arms were good for graceful movements in dance classes, or pumping in rhythm while I jogged, but not much else. The thought of depending on my shoulders and arms to hold me upside down made me squeamish.
Though I didn’t trust my own strength, I did trust the instructor. She began by talking us through a half-handstand. This involves facing away from the wall, doing a downward dog, with heels just touching the baseboard of the wall behind. “Now step up the wall with one foot,” she queued. This was followed by placing the other foot up the wall at hip level, balancing on hands directly below the shoulders. I inched one foot up the wall, then froze, sure that if I took both feet off the baseboards, I would fall splat on my face. The teacher saw my distress and came over to assist. She pressed her hands against my shoulders just enough to keep me from falling forward. “Step higher!” she said. Moving on faith, I stepped as high as I could up the wall behind me, next bringing up my other foot. As I aligned my body, pressing my feet into the wall, shoulders stacked directly over my arms, I felt strong. Gradually the instructor backed off the pressure on my shoulders, and voila! “I’m doing it!” I felt light and balanced. “Keep breathing!” she said. I breathed. Moments later, the instructor helped me down, but I couldn’t stop grinning for the rest of the class.
Since that class, I have progressed to assisted handstands, which to me feels like I’m flying–supported, yet strangely free. I have also taken on new challenges in my life, like getting trained to lead dance exercise classes, and signing up for a professional certificate program at a local junior college.
Sometimes taking a small step just isn’t enough. Take a big step–and keep breathing!