Doing Handstands

Lent 2012
Path of Restoration


by Tracy Donley 

I have been struggling for some time now in my yoga practice to do a handstand. To do one with any grace while avoiding breaking a wrist — or a neck — requires lots of strength and balance, but someone who has been practicing yoga as long as I have should easily be able to pull it off. I’ve worked at strengthening the necessary muscles, I’ve read the instructions, attended the classes, watched the DVDs, but still can’t quite do it. 

But a few days ago, I was driving past an elementary school playground, where a large group of second and third graders were running around, laughing, and taking turns doing handstands in the grass. Effortless, giggling handstands. Sometimes, they’d fall over — which only led them to pop up and try again. Sometimes, they’d achieve that brief moment of lightness, of grace, before folding back down to their feet. 

Please. Do these children work out in their spare time? Do they take classes to learn to balance like that? 

That was, of course, when it occurred to me that children can do handstands, headstands, cartwheels, and the like because they hold the real secret without even realizing it: they are light. And they are light because they’re not afraid.

Aha moment! So that’s the reason I haven’t been able to do handstand. It was never something that was missing from my equation. It was something that I had mistakenly added to it. Strength plus balance is a good start. But throw in a healthy dose of fear and all bets are off. 

While we’re on the subject of fitness, I’ll tell another story. This morning, as I was huffing and puffing my way along on a morning run, checking my watch to see how much time was left, I turned to glance at my front yard as I passed my house. There, dancing between trees and morning rays of sunlight was my daughter — and she was running.  

We’re talking here about a 12-year old who isn’t interested in organized sports, but who probably runs for more than an hour a day, simply because she thinks it’s fun. She leaps and bounds and smiles to herself about some daydream she’s playing out in her mind. There is strength and grace in every movement. But mostly, there’s joy. If I popped the earbuds of my iPod out long enough, I am sure I would hear her singing.  

In that moment, I realized what Jesus was talking about when he told us we would have to be like children. Full of faith that life is good, and people are good, and God is good. When did I load myself up with doubt about that? And why? 

As we prepare for the joy and lightness of Easter, Lent is a time for experiencing transformation. And where my old self would think you’d need a reading list and tickets to a lecture series in order to be transformed, these children — with their running and their handstands — have taught me that maybe there is less to it than all of that. Maybe transformation is about unlearning. Maybe God set me down here with a kiss on the forehead and a clear understanding which I have somehow piled high with bags of disappointment, doubt, fear, routine, and all the rest. 

Maybe Easter transformation isn’t about becoming something new, but about going back to what I was meant to be in the first place. Maybe it’s all about setting down the fear, planting your hands on the ground, and kicking off. Maybe it’s about grabbing onto that moment of lightness and remembering who you are. 

Tracy Donley is a member of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Seguin TX. Reach her at or leave a comment below.