In my crowd, I've always been the one with an intolerance for risk, whether it was drugs, bad boys, or the stock market. I'm a Virgo through and through: introverted, meticulous, concrete.
When designer gyms and spandex became the thing in the '80s, I turned to yoga -- back when you practiced on a towel in your sweats in a tiny studio with an Indian name. Yoga was my respite and release -- the breathwork grounded me, and the repetitive poses took me out of my head and into my body.
Then, at 39, I found myself ousted from the publishing job I loved, a victim of corporate restructuring after years of loyalty. So much for playing it safe.
Now I needed yoga more than ever, and suddenly there were options: studios with polished floors, hip music, and celeb yoga students with glowing skin and tight butts.
Wanting More From My Practice
In one of these studios, I found myself sneaking looks at the women in the front row, the ones who effortlessly pulled themselves into handstands, not even needing the wall. Their arms were ropy, their bodies firm and lithe. More remarkable, many of them looked to be over 40.
I felt an unfamiliar stirring: Could I actually do a handstand? Holding a headstand was no problem: I was still earthbound. But a handstand seemed to involve a dizzying flight above ground and arm strength that rebuked my spindly limbs.
I started with simple push-ups each morning -- initially unable to do one, I progressed to five, then 10, 20. I added forearm planks, moving through chaturanga 10 times. I started to see tone in my arms, and my core grew tighter, too.
When I first attempted a handstand at home, I leaped off my feet, twisted to the side, then crashed back down to the floor. But I could feel the possibility of flying, and my arms had held me ... until they hadn't.
When I felt ready to try a handstand in class, I asked the teacher for help. I failed as I had at home before, but she caught my legs and guided them to the wall.
Taking Risks in Yoga -- and in Life
Practicing at home, I was soon meeting the wall each time. Curiously, I also began to take leaps in other ways -- trying sushi, drinking scotch instead of my chaste Chardonnay.
I don't think it's a coincidence that during this time I turned down a juicy offer at a big publisher to join a small literary agency where I could work independently and reap my own rewards.
Then shortly after my 40th birthday, during my morning handstand practice, I tightened my core, tucked my pelvis, and stretched my hips, thighs, and heels higher than usual.
As my feet left the security of the wall, I felt a current running from floor to toes, holding me high. For the first time in my life, I realized, I was standing on my own two hands.
Want to try it yourself? Work your way up to a handstand with these four moves.
Text by Linda Lowenthal