Like A Handstand

text by Jessica Stammen
photograph unknown


Last week I was asked to contribute a guest post for Delicious Musings.  Sharon Kitchens, the blog’s editor, is focussing on health and nutrition content for the month of March. What follows is the repost of my general musings about fitness and goal setting.

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I just finished up an awesome week. Allow me to start with last weekend.

Saturday, Sunday, Monday: drove down and back to New York City to visit friends, see art, get my hair cut, and walk everywhere. High points? Dancing to Nils Fredland and Elixir , eating at Quintessence, a fantastic raw restaurant on East 10th, and hitting up three parks on Sunday — Gramercy, Prospect and Central.

Tuesday: Smashed out an early morning HIIT session at the Y before spending the rest of the day in the studio making art and doing house chores with the window open. Returned to the YMCA in the evening for a nice stretch session and sauna.

Wednesday: Started the day with a two mile swim and sauna before heading back into the studio. Mid-day break for something I’ve never done in my life: I got a pedicure. (My friends are scratching their heads right now saying “Wha?!”) I chose a blue polish. With glitter. Why? Because the evening was spent at a local dance studio, bluesin’ away, barefoot and sparkly.

Thursday: HIIT session numero dos. I put together a challenging 400 rep workout for the twice-a-week class that I lead; it included jumping rope, deck squats, russian twists, reverse pull-ups, bam-bams…all the good bodyweight exercises. Segued into gymnastics open gym and experimented with partner stunts like double planks and acro-yoga moves. Finished off with some bridge work and time on the trampoline! Drove to Portland and picked up a friend from the airport; listened to beautiful stories of yoga and the Ganga from India. Banked on enough conversational osmosis that I could give my weary body a rest and skip my scheduled evening yoga class. Did some reading, writing and worked on blogging with a big, healthy plant-based dinner instead.

Friday: All day studio work. A late afternoon meeting to develop my new website followed by a spin and sauna session.

What do the details of my past week have to do with fitness and goal setting? Why are they greater than their seemingly trivial value? In the context of the bigger picture which is the all-things-considered good life that I am deeply grateful for (and to imagine, this one life situated in all of time and space!) my time at the gym and in the pool could be viewed as extracurricular at best, meaningless at worst. And yet I go to the Y and spend countless precious hours spinning, swimming, jumping, climbing, skipping, and sweating to increase my quality of life, my capacity to live! Why else would I? Gym memberships cost a lot of time, money and (if one uses them) pain. Are they worth it?

Strength, mobility, flexibility, resilience, balance — these are all skills and qualities that can be tested and developed through physical activity and then applied broadly as creative, intellectual, emotional and even spiritual pathways to life, sure; but they are also life itself. They are health! They are the game plan to attain the goal and the goal itself.

A year ago today I began to practice handstands by kicking up against the wall. When I think about how long the learning process has been — a year and I can still only hold a handstand for five seconds on a good day! — well then, then I see that I’m in it, really in it and that the process is the key. I begin to notice how the slightest of movements in my wrists, fingers, and chin even, are working overtime to tune my body to the subtleties of balancing itself. These slight movements are like the details of my days and my weeks. They accumulate and build on each other, like bones stacking in alignment, and they move me in a direction towards greater stability, flexibility and resilience. Life is built of these things and these things are life in exactly the same way that the work to learn the handstand is the handstand.

This said, it sure will be nice if I can someday walk on my hands!

But don’t learn to do a handstand because you want to show off. Don’t go to the gym because you want to lose 10 pounds. Don’t pick a friend up from the airport because it’s an obligation. Don’t not get a pedicure because it’s “just not something I would do.” Don’t go to New York City for all-work-no-play — or vice versa depending on your default tendency. Intention to do the things you do because you want to live, and the things you do will be life.

List of goals in fitness/life as we head into spring and summer here in Maine:
That damn handstand!
Ten chin ups
Forward and backward walk overs
Beat my hamstrings into flexible submission
Swim to Ilseboro, again
Hike Katahdin
Dance like this

Photo credit: unknown.