Winter is here. It is cold. What affects me more is that it is dark and I am more isolated from my community because of it. Winter solstice marks the day of the year with least sunlight. But I chose to celebrate joyfully. It may be the first full day of winter, but looking at the “bright side” days will only get lighter from here! Winter solstice celebrations intend to honor the return of the sun’s light. Traditions dating thousands of years have been incorporated into contemporary spiritual and religious practices to honor the lengthening of daylight. These celebrations have a serendipitous effect of countering winter blues and bringing people together in community.
Besides the year-end parties I’ve attended, I’ve found joy this week in being upside down. What better reason is there to practice adho mukha vrksasana (handstand) than to have fun?! Being upside down offers a perspective that is novel and exciting relative to the feet on the ground, head in the air, day-to-day stance. It increases heart rate and blood pressure in part because of the physiology of the action but also because of this novel excitement. Most people haven’t supported their weight entirely through their hands with their feet in the air since they were 8 years old and those are usually happy memories.
Handstand variations can be accessible to anyone. After preparing the body with a few rounds of surya namaskar (sun salutations – honoring the return of sunlight!) and several breaths in adho mukha svanasana (downward dog pose), the shoulders are open and strengthened to accept body weight. Additional time in plank pose and forearm plank pose can also help strengthen the shoulders. Gomukhasana (cow face pose) and garudasana (eagle pose) arms help open the shoulders. Not only do the hands take the body weight in handstand, but the shoulders need to lift up and out more than they do in our usual daily activities.
Coming into the full expression of the pose in the middle of the room isn’t necessary to experience the joy of being upside down. Support from the wall and keeping one or both feet on the wall are still novel and exciting and fun. And that is what is important - it is the joy of the season that we are celebrating after all!