I will soon be 57 and I’m on a quest to master a freestanding handstand (away from the wall).
Sure, I did handstands in gym class when I was a teen, but I never again had the desire to be on my hands again until after I turned 50.
In fact, my quest to master a freestanding handstand only started a little over a year ago.
Why would I want to achieve such a thing? I learned arm-balancing yoga poses after the age of 52, and each time I mastered one I felt such a thrill, that I wanted more.
When I learned a number of arm balances, the next challenge surely had to be a handstand.
If age has given me something I lacked when I was younger, that would be patience. So I’ve given myself plenty of time.
I’ve been following a few different drills to build my upper body strength, but it wasn’t until I met Sheila J. Donelly, handstand coach for midlife women, on Instagram, that I really felt I could make some kind of progress.
What made a difference was her feedback. I shared with her photos and short videos of my drills, and she sent back tips and tricks to improve both my form and my stamina.
She also taught me that resting between drills was way more important than I realized.
Sheila is now dedicated to teaching women over 40 how to handstand.
She has under her belt a lifetime of experience on the yoga mat.
She first started her yoga practice, as many of us do, for the physicality of it and through becoming a certified yoga instructor she benefited from the inner work that yoga invites us to do.
When chronic pain made an appearance in Sheila’s life, she realized that asana yoga alone wasn’t the answer for her.
And so she began to explore functional movement, barbell lifting and kettlebell training.
Sheila now incorporates functional movement patterns, conventional strength training, and kettlebells in her teaching and coaching.
In 2018, Sheila decided to focus on handstands. She hired a coach and a year later she realized she needed a coach who would focus on her over-40 body, but could not find one.
So she became that handstand coach that focuses on women over 40 who would love to take on this challenge.
Sheila now offers one-on-one personal handstand coaching, personal training, and an 8-week group handstand coaching program.
I was so blown away by her easy-to-follow instruction and her spot-on feedback that I asked to interview her for Viva Fifty and so here we are.
I hope that after reading our Q&A you’re inspired to follow her on Instagram and reach out to her if you’d like to try something new, fun and rewarding.
Lorraine C. Ladish.- What prompted you to become a handstand coach?
Sheila J. Donnelly.- I have taught some form of movement for over 15 years. For me, being in my body is the way I process things. It is how I am able to work through challenges.
It is how I stay connected and grounded. Creating a space and sharing these experiences with students is my way of giving back.
One of the greatest feelings is to watch a student finally get something they were working on and to see how they light up from it.
LCL.- Why would women over 40, 50 or older want to learn handstands? I mean, I know why I do … but, in general …
SJD.- Handstands challenge you physically and mentally.
The process of working towards a goal, working towards something you didn’t think was possible and seeing the progress builds confidence.
AND handstands are fun and a great trick to show off to friends and family.
LCL.- Have you noticed any differences between younger and older handstanders?
SJD.- Generally, athletes over 40 have learned life lessons that give them an understanding and appreciation that things take time.
To learn a new skill and become proficient you need to put in the hours, you need to put in the work.
Additionally, as we get older we don’t have the same energy to push through things, to muscle our way through a workout.
We need to train smarter, not harder.
LCL.- What are the risks of handstanding and what are the benefits?
SJD.- As with any movement modality, there are always risks. Many of the injuries that occur are preventable with a strong focus on warming up and being present.
For handstands, the most common injuries are in the wrists and shoulders.
These often occur because the practitioner didn’t warm up appropriately, they pushed too hard, and/or didn’t allow ample time for rest and recovery.
The physical benefits of handstands include a strong connection to core stability, increased grip and forearm strength, strong upper back and shoulders.
Emotionally, training for handstands increases focus, patience, and builds confidence.
LCL.- What is one myth you would like to bust about freestanding handstands?
SJD.- Many people think that a strong “core” is the key to a freestanding handstand.
While it is a component to balancing – it is not the key. When we stand on our feet – it is not our core that keeps us upright and steady – it is our feet, legs, and all of the hip muscles.
A handstand is similar – it is our hands, arms, shoulders, and upper back that stabilize and balance us.
LCL.- Is there an age limit to learning handstands and why or why not?
SJD.- Definitely NOT. If you are in good shape and have a desire to learn a handstand – go for it!
LCL.- Why did you create your handstanding program?
SJD.- I was working with a female handstand coach and she decided she no longer wanted to do one-on-one coaching.
I began a search to find a new handstand coach and I couldn’t find a woman coach. It was important to me, as a woman over 40, to work with a coach who was also a woman.
As Dr. Stacey Sims says “Women aren’t small men.” Women need to train differently than men. I realized there was a real need for female handstand coaches and I could fill that need.
LCL.- Where can women sign up to it and what can they expect from your coaching?
SJD.- The coaching process starts with a person submitting a questionnaire and videos for me to review where they are at.
Based on their goals and where they currently are I create a personalized 4 week training program.
During the 4-week period they submit videos for review and feedback. The path to handstands takes time and can be frustrating.
Progress needs to be measured over weeks and months, not days. Since it is a longer process to see results there is a minimum of a 2-month commitment required.
She will definitely motivate you to build your strength and reach your goals. To start out you may also sign up for her 10-day handstand challenge.