What to Do When Life Turns You Upside Down

Beach Handstand

Inversions have a resetting effect on the body and the brain.

At the end of 2013, I quit my job. The job I’ve been at for nine years and two weeks, exactly.

Not because I hated it. Not because I think regular paychecks, healthcare benefits, and a 401K plan are icky.

Just because I want to see what else is possible.

My former position as editorial director of fitness for Experience Life magazine brings with it a cast of brilliant coworkers, an enormous platform from which to spread the gospel of strength and fitness, and a great deal of job security.

It’s that last one I didn’t want anymore.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to turn your world upside down, in every sense. I find that when I’m craving upward mobility or an escape from defined parameters, I physically crave handstands — something to push against. In other words, every time I’m contemplating a major life change, I become a handstand junkie. This very literal interpretation has been a topic of conversation lately between myself and one of Experience Life‘s quality of life editors, Courtney Helgoe, and I want to share her story with you.

Courtney’s build is naturally long and lithe. She is a longtime Iyengar yoga practitioner and a fellow fan of inversions. “Anytime your head drops beneath your navel you get the benefits of inversion. The primary benefit is getting fresh blood to the brain, which can have the effect of resetting it. This can be refreshing both physically and mentally,” she explains.

There are multiple ways to be upside down in yoga, and the more advanced balancing inversions — such as headstand, shoulderstand, and handstand — build courage, among other things. Headstands produce a lot of stand-up-for-yourself energy, she notes, while shoulderstands put pressure on the carotid artery, which has a measurable effect on the parasympathetic nervous system and calms people down. “If my thoughts are stuck and ruminating, headstand and shoulderstand, followed by a few backbends and forward bends, always helps me get out of a mental rut,” says Courtney.

“But handstands are another story. I’ve struggled with that pose for most of the time I’ve been practicing yoga,” she says. “The arms tell the story of your own strength — how strong you feel, how much you’re able to hold, how much you’re comfortable holding and being held. And I didn’t trust mine for the longest time. So, trying to go up into handstand when I was so scared of depending on my arms made me weep. Routinely. Very embarrassing.”

So, every Monday since the beginning of 2012, we began building Courtney’s strength during a staff kettlebell class. I taught her how to deadlift, squat, row, clean, snatch. And…I taught her to press. She started with a cute little baby ‘bell, but quickly advanced. She became braver when selecting weight, and she did more consecutive reps.

“After multiple years of struggle, just a couple months into strength training I started being able to kick up into handstand easily. I began trusting that my arms weren’t going to drop me, even in my new orientation — because they were obviously so much stronger,” she says. “The rewards of overcoming a barrier like that are pretty hard to explain. They are embarrassingly huge.”

A funny thing tends to happen when you build physical strength: Your expanded capacity carries over into every facet of your life, and you discover you’re willing to take more chances and shoulder more responsibility outside the gym. In fact, you want to. You can’t help yourself.

Even more magic occurs when you turn that strength on its head (or yours, if you will). Inversions teach you to be calm and confident, even when your world is upside down.

Here’s to embracing a whole new view!



Author:Jen Sinkler

Fitness writer and editor, workout connoisseur, meditator, proponent of spandex, former rugby player; never, ever without lip gloss.
Comments: 2

2 Responses to “What to Do When Life Turns You Upside Down”

  1. January 2, 2013 at 10:11 am #

    I’m SO excited to keep up with your blog, Jen. I’ve heard such great things about you from Lee!

  2. Anna
    January 4, 2013 at 8:56 am #

    What an absolutely wonderful post! Thanks for that!! Especially the second to last paragraph really resonated with me. People (girls mostly) often think that lifting isn’t really exercise; I myself didn’t realise there were benefits until I did Bodypump a few years ago. I’m happy that this ‘silly’ class actually led me to indulge in ‘proper’ strength training.
    I will definitely take the handstand advice, since overhead and inverted movements are also my weak point.

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