How I Lost (And Regained) My Handstand

When I lost my dream job, my life went topsy-turvy — so much so that I also lost my handstand.

I’m not talking about a gymnastics-style handstand — the kind where perky and muscular athletes like Nadia Comaneci or Gabby Douglas walk around on chalky hands to win Olympic medals. I’m referring to the yoga handstand, often done with the help of a wall.

Known in Sanskrit as Adho Mukha Vrksasana, this handstand is my favorite yoga pose. The benefits include increased blood flow to the brain, which is obviously very helpful when it comes to thinking on your feet, once you’re upright again. Typically, this handstand is one of the poses you do toward the end of class, after you’re a malleable and sweaty pretzel. You’re now all warmed up and your shoulders are nice and loose, so your body is perfectly prepped for that handstand.

I’m by no means a crazy athlete, by the way. But being able to pop myself into this handstand was just one of those karmic things I could always do, even though my yoga practice had never been all that advanced.

The pose itself requires you to balance on your hands, while extending your legs straight up above your head and shoulders. It’s a pose that eludes many people for different reasons (strength, balance, anxiety), so being able to quickly turn upside down with ease was a big confidence-booster for me.

The handstand also reverses the flow of blood, which gives me a nice, natural high. It’s liberating to see the world upside down, even if it’s for less than a minute. When the floor becomes the ceiling and the trees transform into hanging vines through the window, you’re suddenly in a parallel universe. I imagine it’s a bit like Alice felt after she imbibed from the bottle that said “Drink Me”: Everything is groovy and clear.

But that invigorating vantage point vanished after I was laid off. The magazine I worked for was acquired by another company and most of the staff got the boot. Including me.

They call it “work” for a reason, but I wanted to go to the office every day at this particular job. For six years, my colleagues were more like family than co-workers. We’d ease into Monday mornings by recapping our weekends and swapping parenting and relationship advice. On Friday afternoons, we’d occasionally kick off the weekend by piling into a former office-cum-lounge and snack on wine and cheese. In between, we worked long hours and produced an excellent publication.

Before I made vacation plans or even bought a winter coat, I consulted the collective office brain trust, who were knowledgeable about everything from the best time to visit Disney World to the sweetest deals at Lands’ End. (We all ended up buying the same down parka, by the way.) One co-worker even came house hunting with me and helped orchestrate my family’s move from Manhattan to Brooklyn. Needless to say, we were all very tight. And losing that job meant losing my beloved office comrades, as well.

After I was laid off, my body went into shock. I cried. I couldn’t sleep or eat. I no longer felt like that grounded, confident office mom. Instead, I was a wreck. I let myself fall apart. It wasn’t about the money as much as it was about my position in life. And with my professional status up in the air, my ability to effortlessly throw my legs in the air and assume my favorite yoga pose, simply disappeared. For an entire year.

According to Yoga Journal, a natural-yet-major obstacle to the handstand is a fear of falling. It does not take thousands of dollars of therapy to figure out that I had fallen hard, and I couldn’t get myself back up.

There is no dramatic crescendo here. I continued going to yoga class, and week after week I’d try to get into a handstand again. But it still remained elusive, even after I got a great new job and was out of my emotional funk. I was frustrated that I was still failing, and I even dreaded the moment in yoga class when it was time to try handstand.

My teacher just told me to be patient. “It just happens sometimes,” she said. “It will come back.”

And then one day, I kicked one leg up in the air, and the second one followed.

Voila. I had found my handstand at last. After everything in my life had been turned inside out, I finally managed to get upside down once again.

TN19_handstand_720 (Photos courtesy Lauren Young)

Tell Us in the Comments

What do you think?

9 Responses

  1. Kim O'Donnel

    YES! I’m not at handstand yet but smile wide everytime I go upside down into headstand. Namaste.

  2. Carol Sacks

    Great, heartfelt piece. And, congrats on getting your handstand back!

  3. Monica Gagnier

    Bravo, Lauren! What a wonderful and inspiring piece!

  4. Amy Debra Feldman

    Lovely piece, Lauren!!

  5. Lauren Young

    Thanks for the comments so far! A few musings: I took these photos over the weekend while I was in LA. I was not warmed up. My legs are not straight in the photo where I’m kicking up into handstand. This bothers me.

    Also, in this photo I’m rocking Be Present agility pants. If you practice yoga, and you have not tried their gear, sun salutation your way to their website. I love love their yoga pants, so much so that I’m actually wearing a pair now as I type. They are light – like an extra fine layer of skin. But keep in mind that these pants run small.


  6. Jennifer Saranow Shultz

    Great piece Lauren. You capture the feeling of being laid off so well (it’s like being dumped by a boyfriend but so much worse). I still need to work on my handstand (I’m a yoga novice) — love the idea that it’s all about getting over the fear of falling ….

  7. Jenna Briand
    Jenna Briand

    Upside down is a great perspective on life – congrats! Great piece. 🙂

  8. Kristy Krivitsky

    Your regaining your ‘handing’ is inspiring–thanks for sharing!


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