Every type of physical activity has its own charm.
One of the charms of handstand training is the intensely strenuous, grinding work.
Handstand training creates a pumping heat in your body, your muscles burn, you feel the pressure in your joints, and there can be that ill feeling of your body tearing at its seams that comes with touching upon your physical limits (sounds like a fun activity right?). All of it is paired with an intense mental and physical focus. In this post I would like to talk about the states one passes through when trying to advance in handstand training as I feel like understanding them better will enable you to value each state more as part of your progress.
We love the fleeting moments of lightness in our handstand training. Some days it all just feels effortless, our body is light like a feather. We wonder what all the stress was about, this feels so easy. These are the moments we work for. Moments when we appear to have full and effortless control over our body. These moments of lightness often come as a result of descending from the peaks we have climbed in previous training days. When we have recovered from a very strenuous training time or our body has adjusted to a new level of training intensity we can feel light, powerful and almost weightless in our handstand training. As much as this feels pleasant I think the moments when training is hard offer valuable experiences and should be seen as more than just a chore.
In handstand training, after having learnt the basics, you cannot progress without a tight training routine that systematically pushes your limits further. Let me repeat: you cannot progress without those training sessions where you feel close to the absolute limit of what your body is able to cope with. When you get this pumping heat all over your limbs, your forearms swell and you feel a bit like a jelly fish in a sauna, strangely lacking in substance, close to melting and very help-and hopeless, that is where your handstand training starts. Such high intensity training does however contain the risk of damaging your mental and physical body. Your awareness narrows, your movement precision decreases and you are entering into a mental dialogue with yourself about having-to-become-more-than-your-are which can be harmful if you are not paying close attention to it.
So how do we challenge and push ourselves to work very hard without injuring ourselves, without crushing our joy, our self-esteem and critical judgement? My answer to this is: slowly and carefully get used to working with a quiet and self assured ardour.
Ardour comes from the Latin word ardere which means: to burn. It translates to anything ranging from enthusiasm to passion, devotion or zeal. Ardour is the burning heat in your body and mind. Ardour means to love or want something so much that you are ready to take whatever hardship it requires. You want to progress at handstands, you want to have more stability, endurance or learn how to do a one arm handstand. This is what you want on the surface. If you cannot connect to the underlying personal goals that your wish, goal or passion is based on you may fail to hold up the discipline it requires to do the necessary work. Now I have dropped the second most important word: discipline. Discipline sounds rather grim. Its connotations range from control and enforced compliance to strict rules and punishment. Discipline (you know by now, I pride myself of my Latin ;)) comes from the Latin word discipulus which simply means student but not just that, it also defines a person who learns from another in order to then become a teacher themselves.
It is important to note that ardour and discipline are both in essence directed at something and describe a process of becoming. Discipline has an idol in mind, a teacher, another athlete or a clearly outlined achievement. Ardour envisions a future self or a new way of being that comes about by fully immersing yourself in the object of your passion. The physical process of training hard is thus a process of becoming. Your hard work always happens in dialogue with a vision of you, your future self. What motivates you is a sketch that you have drawn of yourself of what you may become in the future. This is very different from ticking off a box for having achieved a higher number of repetitions or more seconds in holding endurance handstands. It is a process alive with personal reflection where you continuously need to check in with your future self-to-be along the way of hard work, pain and sweat.
This may seem obvious but it is not. A lot of people are disconnected form the hardship of training as a tool for leverage because they do not understand the dialogue and introspection that needs to take place on the way. In that case handstand training will be very mechanistic and merely toying around with exercises, training tools and drills. If you really want to benefit from the intensity of handstand training, do understand what you are aiming at, who you want to become (not just a better handbalancer) and who you are doing this for (not just the Instagram likes). I like to call this process “developing a perspective”. It means that you start to understand yourself and your unique set of circumstances as a person and in life better.
On a very practical level “developing a perspective” means that you have to pay very close attention. The biggest potential intensive training has for personal development is the hyper-awareness and focus it requires. When the training gets tough your awareness needs to sharpen, your body is in a more dangerous place than ever, you may get injured, you want to push your limits but how far is safe? How much can you toe the line of what is safe? That is the main question body and mind try to negotiate throughout strenuous training: What is safe? It is a very exciting state of mind.
If you accept this as not just a physical but also as a personal process, you can welcome the strain and the pain to teach you more about yourself. That way hard work has a taste of discovery and becomes a stepping stone to progress rather than just a tedious chore to get to a higher skill level. Finding joy in strenuous training, finding meaning in ardour and the potential in discipline means you need to find your personal project.