When you practice handstands it can sometimes appear as if the progress is very slow. It feels like even though you are putting in the time, you are not really getting anywhere. I encounter this frustration in many of my students and sometimes in myself.
In this post I wanted to some of my training experiences especially from my childhood in the hope that you find motivation in the fact that learning a difficult skill really takes time, no matter what age you are at.
It always confuses me a bit when people say that children learn faster than adults and somehow, it is implied, effortlessly. To me this sounds as if the fact that I had learned how to handstand as a child somehow means that I did not put real work into it. As if all the practice was play and fun and then zoom — one day there was perfect body alignment.
That is really not what I remember. Yes, as I say in one of my performances “The first time I remember doing a handstand was when my teacher held me up by my feet, and she told me to stay, and then she let go and I stayed. I was five years old, I weighed 18 kilos, I could almost do splits and twenty pull ups (if I had had a chocolate bar just before)” I was a little shrimp and I could do a two-second banana shaped handstand, legs waving into all directions. So that was the fun part but really, after that it was ten thousand repetitions. For a while my coaches strapped two pieces of cardboard with tape to my arms when I practiced because I kept bending my elbows. (Sounds a bit awful, but it wasn‘t. And anyhow my coaches gave up on that after a while cause the cardboard would break every time from my bending arms…)
So, as a child you learn faster and you learn with ease. I find that both unfair and incorrect. I remember my years in the sports acro club as years of hard work. I remember long afternoons in the gym when the fading light outside made the shadows grow longer and I had been practicing the same odd move for the past hour and a half. I remember the harsh fluorescent lights as we practiced until late in the evening. I remember how we had a quick lunch on a half hour break. I had acro practice Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday night for three hours and at the weekend between ten in the morning and six in the afternoon. I sometimes enter a sports hall and the smell of the mats, the smell of sweat and smelly feet and bathrooms with leaky pipes brings me back to those many evenings and weekends spent in the gym. Looking back at my childhood it appears to me that learning was neither easy nor fast. I don’t think I learned faster.
The difference was I accepted that progress takes time. I did not measure my success on a daily or weekly basis. I was wholeheartedly invested into learning acrobatics and handstands. Time mattered less and I did not have any concept of how fast I should learn. I surrendered to training as a long learning process. I was not easily discouraged. I had a lot of people around me who were in the same situation and I could see with my own eyes every day that they were putting the exact same time and effort into training as I was. I knew that all of this would take an awful long time and some of it would never happen. I had no Instagram or Youtube that would have fed me quick fixes and delusions about progress. I put in the practice and the time without thinking about the time.
Impatience and frustration are in my experience with my students the two biggest obstacles for progress in handstands. It takes a long time to learn a simple straight line handstand. Learning a handstand press or even a one arm handstand takes even longer. You better stop measuring success in weeks, especially when it comes to the more advanced stuff. The biggest mental challenge in handstand training (and a hugely helpful mindset to acquire for many other parts of life) is to switch off your judgemental mind and put in the time without immediate expectations. I don‘t mean “without goals” but without immediate expectations. The times we live in value fast progress and also assume that with the right technique you get quick results soon. No technique will spare you from repetitive practice. As I like to say to my students at the end of a workshop: Unfortunately the only real secret is: you have to practice!
So my advice is: write a practice plan and stick to it like a Zen monk (I don‘t know so much about Zen monks but it sounds good ;)). Stick to your plan with a calm and determined mindset. Switch off comparison, do the repetitions. Look at the stopwatch, count your repetitions and just do the thing, stick to it! No self evaluation on the day. Just do the exercises, your body will carry you through. My second advice: Film your training at the beginning of each month and keep the videos. At the end of the month (this is for beginners) sit down and look at the videos and evaluate your progress. If you are working on more advanced stuff go back to your videos every second month. For one arm handstands evaluate progress every three months. If you are working on your one arm handstand, most of the time no noticeable change occurs within a month. When it comes to one arm practice, start planning in years rather than months. While this sounds tedious it is actually wonderful! You now have a companion: handstand practice. Slow and steady, always by your side, constant refuge in the form of repetition from the busyness of ever-changing modern life. It is like a little caterpillar that transforms to something beautiful very slowly and you get to be the creator, every day.
Ditch your impatience and allow learning to unfold at it’s slow and steady pace.