In nostalgic retrospect, it seems obvious that confidently being able to do handstands on the bottom of a swimming pool as a kid doesn’t translate to performing them well on dry land as an adult.
If I thought I was going to go straight into things (pun unintended) during my afternoon handstand class, I was greatly overestimating myself. I was, however, learning from the best: 28-year-old Sammy Dinneen, a world-renowned hand balancer who has performed all over the world, and who makes standing on your hands look like a piece of cake. Take it from me: it isn’t.
Why are handstands good for fitness?
Handstands are much more than a cool trick to show off to your friends, they’re a full body workout. Sammy tells me: “Handstands give you better awareness and understanding of your body, making you stronger all over with particular emphasis on the upper body, core, sides and shoulders, while working on your balance and proprioception.
“Once you can lift, hold and control your full body weight on your hands, all these other so called ‘impossible’ tricks start to seem very possible and sometimes even easy.”
Fortunately, the patient (and rather hunky) Sammy is not about to let me go in headfirst (pun intended) and there are plenty of preparatory exercises to get me used to the sensation of being totally linear. These include lying on my front and sucking my stomach off the floor as I lift my legs off the ground and also getting into downward dog, pulling in my belly and squeezing my bum – a ‘dish’ position (gymnastics lingo) that is surprisingly hard to maintain when you have bad posture like me.
Next, we begin incorporating the wall. Back to the wall, hands on the floor and bum in the air, I walk my feet up the wall while supporting myself on my hands. For someone who was notoriously bad at the monkey bars as a child due to poor arm strength, this is something of a challenge – and it only gets worse when I have to walk my hands in closer to the side until I’m vertical up against the wall.
It is astounding how much there is to remember, even just reminding myself to breathe is a struggle as I try to align my body, point my toes and recall everything Sammy has taught me.
– RELATED: The Circus Performer Who Spends His Days Upside Down –
Is it dangerous?
I can’t help but fear crashing down straight into the mat and crushing my arms, or even worse, my neck, but Sammy allays my concerns, revealing that in the ten years he’s been doing this he’s only ever come across three people who injured themselves as they fell, and it was just broken toes. I’m not quite sure how much to be comforted by this…
After a great deal of panting and feet slipping from nervous sweat (it was never like this in the pool) I’m eventually deemed ready enough to progress to actual handstand stage.
With Sammy standing in front of me, I place my hands on the ground and kick my legs up high in the air. Even with Sammy gently supporting my legs there is still so much to remember – clench bum, keep head straight, use fingers to balance… don’t panic. It’s surprising how being upside down can turn your brain into mush.
So how easy is it?
For all my hopes of nailing the move right away, I’m barely capable of holding myself up. Sammy gradually lets go to allow me to keep the pose solo, but very quickly I begin to topple and he’d grab them again. My wrists (among many things) let me down: typically, the one part of me that is super flexible proved to be a hindrance as they make me go further over than was necessary, unbalancing my body.
The most I managed was four seconds by myself, which may sound pathetic now but felt like an age when I was upside down and I gave myself a pat on the back afterwards, thoroughly pleased with my progress over the course of the, highly enjoyable, hour.
As we wrap up the lesson, Sammy encourages me to train at home and comforts me with the fact that it takes humans about two years to learn to walk on their feet so I can hardly expect to be a handstand pro in a day.
There goes my dream of running off to join a circus any time soon, but watch this space come 2019…
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