Can handstands make me happy(ier)?

2020: The year I couldn’t stop doing handstands and taking photos of myself in a handstand (oh, the yogic shame)

I’m honestly not looking for silver lining when I say that lots of good things happened in 2020. Parking the Covid-19 anxiety to one side (especially the “I live so far away from my family” part of it):

  • I discovered my love for walking and made daily walks part of a routine that I stick to today
  • I went running two or three times a week, as part of a 10K training schedule (and ran my first 10K)
  • And I practiced yoga, lots of yoga, especially Rocket yoga (which some of you may know can be quite physically demanding)

And it paid off. I felt stronger, healthier, and, most excitingly, I managed for the first time ever, to do a handstand. This may not sound very impressive as it was against the wall, but bear in mind that I was one of those weird children who couldn’t do a handstand despite desperately flinging my legs against the wall in my mum’s dressing room (that may have been part of it I suspect).

I absolutely love doing handstands and other yoga gymnastics! I may be rubbish at them, I may be scared of falling still, but that feeling of conquering that fear, of feeling strong and light – it’s just amazing.

Now, this is a feeling, not a fact. So I was really surprised to read in the book I’ve just finished (more on that on the next newsletter) that there is actually some research that could explain this feeling.

Apparently, strength training is associated with a number of mental health benefits, including reduction in anxiety and reduction in depressive symptoms. It has also been linked with enhanced confidence and improvements in self-esteem. (but caveat here: I only have access to the depressive symptoms review, and both that and the anxiety/confidence review say that better quality, most consistent studies are needed)

Now, it’s not entirely clear how they define strength training, but generally speaking (or, according to the internet), this tends to include exercise using weights, resistance bands or body weight – so I would argue that a lot of yoga could fall into this, and certainly yoga ‘gymnastics’ like handstands.

While there is not clear and clean explanation of this, the author of the book and the various studies suggest a few things that make sense. Strength training may give us a feeling of achievement or possibility of what we/our bodies can achieve that may translate to a boost of confidence and self-esteem.

The interesting thing is that it doesn’t matter how much stronger we actually get – it seems that it’s the act of training itself that gives the boost (at least in the case of the depressive symptoms review).

Ok, I’m sold. I’m off to do some handstands now and give myself a boost. What about you?

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