How & why I learned to do a freestanding handstand in my late 50’s

At 55 years old, I publicly declared that I was on a journey to accomplish a freestanding handstand by the age of 60.

I explained in the post linked above that after the first time I felt the thrill of getting some “hang time” when my feet were over my head, I was hooked.

Well, to my surprise, I accomplished a freestanding handstand by 57. That was my birthday celebration picture.

Lorraine C. Ladish in handstand at 57
Photo: Phillippe Diederich

I practice yoga daily and by that I mean the 8 limbs of yoga – Yamas (ethical restraints), niyamas (ethical observances), asana (yoga poses), pranayama (breathwork), pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (bliss – something I merely aspire to). Learn more about the eight limbs of yoga in this article by Yoga Journal.

In essence, this means that the physical practice is a small part of what I do and I’m not even sure I could qualify handstand drills as yoga.

My handstand journey felt like a spiritual quest

Lorraine C. Ladish in handstand
Photo: Phillippe Diederich

That being said, the discipline of getting on my hands regularly to develop shoulder and back strength and stamina, was interesting and fulfilling, and the actual achievement of holding it, akin to a spiritual experience.

From the moment my feet leave the ground, to when I feel my hips stacked over my shoulders long enough that I can smile, and until my soles are back on the ground, it’s like time stops. Nothing else exists. Just me and my breath. I feel it all happening in slow motion, although in real time it goes by pretty fast.

Having worked out all my life in some form or another, during this journey in my 50’s I had to be more patient with myself. Some days I felt like I’d regressed. It was as if all progress was lost. Other days I was stronger than I expected. It was a path filled with highs and lows, that resulted in a lot of self-compassion and also self-respect.

Over time, watching videos and looking at pictures of my practice I realized that overall, I’d really come a long way from when I started out and could barely even get my feet off the ground.

There are many online tutorials that can help you learn to hold a freestanding handstand, but I went with Kerry Verna, who I still train with online. I also bought her Handstand Trainer Ebook, which helped a lot.

Eventually, I found Sheila Donnely, handstand coach for women over 40, on Instagram, and she provided valuable feedback that helped me to be more patient with myself but also more disciplined when it came to doing “boring” drills over and over.

I interviewed Sheila about her own journey learning and teaching freestanding handstands to women 40 and 50 plus.

So I achieved my handstand goal, now what

At 55 I set out to learn how to handstand by the age of 60. To my surprise, I accomplished it by my 57th birthday. What's next?
Photo: Phillippe Diederich

As for me, my handstand journey hasn’t stopped just because I was able to get myself on my hands and hold it long enough for the exhilaration to take my breath away. Once the body learns something, it remembers, but for me, that’s only the beginning.

Now that I can hold myself up, there is more to learn, from better form (less banana back) and balance and longer holds so I can confidently move entirely away from a wall as a safety net. I am not militaristic in my approach, by any means, and take breaks from handstands when I am simply not up to it.

But it’s exciting to realize I don’t have to limit myself in any way based exclusively on age. I follow other yogis and fitness lovers my age and also older than me, who are also exploring handstands and arm balances, or are continuing their practice, because … why wouldn’t they? 

Please know that as of this writing I do not have osteoporosis or osteopenia that would in any way compromise my back, shoulders, wrists, or neck. I am also extremely conscious of the fact that especially at this point in life, nearing 60, I do not need to push myself to the extent that I am risking injury. 

It took a lifetime for me to arrive in this place of  feeling that “slow and steady wins the race,” and even further, that there is no race! Just the joy of setting a challenge that at one point seemed impossible to achieve but that, when I did, made me feel that if I could accomplish a freestanding handstand for the first time at 57, I could do anything.

At 55 I set out to learn how to handstand by the age of 60. To my surprise, I accomplished it by my 57th birthday. What's next?

Lorraine C. Ladish

Bilingual and bicultural Latina editor, writer, speaker, influencer, yoga teacher (RYT500) wife and mom. Founder of Viva Fifty! Published author of 18 books. Her most recent book Your Best Age was released by HarperCollins in September of 2017.

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