Handstands & a Happy Life
After (Finn &) I began posting photos of our global handstand exploits, my friend Cindy sent a fun link entitled Fifty Habits for a Happy Life.
The internet is overrun with catchy advice for a successful life – everything from prayer to adultery – but of all the self-help solutions, for me physical activity in some relationship with adventure, is core to my well-being. To that end our handstand fetish evolved from a few sources: fitness, boredom, the cold, age, vanity and fun!
Of course mastering the art of walking on one’s hands is nothing new and nor are we the best at it – but it is really fun! Early in my life I was a gymnast and all that is left from that judged and tortuous experience is the ability to balance upside-down.
Over the years, sport has remained strong in my life and I have fallen in love with mountains and altitude. When I was offered a term position in the Peruvian Andes, the decision to go was made in under an hour – fortunately my (now) 9 year old inherited my enthusiasm gene and probably did a handstand when I asked; “would you like to move to South America?”
We lived in a cold, adobe house in Cusco, the historic capital of the Inca empire. As an extremely active child, gymnastics was a natural interest of his and with no TV (as always), slow Internet and many young people in the neighbourhood, trying handstands in our rather empty living room evolved as an evening activity. After school we played soccer, climbed, went to the little corner store for ‘treats’ and then retreated to our gated community at sunset. The ambient evening temperature in our house was about 12 degrees (53 F) so either we were bundled in blankets or being active. We started having handstand competitions!
I have a passion for extreme environments and although the Cusco region is in the tropics, its high altitude means cool to cold temperatures as soon as the sun sets around 6pm. Due to the thin air, daytime UV rates are among the highest in the world – perhaps resulting in the wonderful hat culture so endemic to the andean people. Rural life in the Andes follows the rhythm of the sun – in fact for many years the Peruvian currency was called the Inti – ‘sun’ in the Quechua (Inca) language. Early up and early to bed. This is a common theme in cooler environments – I sometimes think of the interesting games the Inuit people must have concocted in their igloos during the long arctic winters.
On a typical evening, we would prepare some very light dinner and the next-door children would come by to play with Finn. My very blond child was certainly a bit of a celebrity in the housing complex and I was thrilled with the almost-nightly playdates if for no other reason but to watch his Spanish progress. We did have Legos – an extremely expensive luxury in that part of the world (and Lego as a corporation really could adjust its pricing to be more inclusive) – but quiet construction generally gave way to dance parties and … handstands!
At the beginning it took my (40+) body some time to remember the movement of balancing on my arms – often making a fist to relieve pressure from my wrists – and my lower back complained vociferously; all the same, it was fun. Of course living at 3300 meters (over 11 000 ft), turing upside-down resulted in dizziness. All physical exertion was more difficult.
I ate little at night and certainly drank less beer (or alcohol full-stop) than at anytime in my adult life. As a rather obvious consequence my fitness level increased quickly. Within weeks of living in the Andes I dropped 5 kilos (11 pounds) and could play soccer upwards of two hours on a cement pitch. The combination of a very healthy diet, extremely low alcohol intake and plenty of activity meant my joints felt great (I have a rather onerous family history of arthritis). Fortunately I have never struggled with obesity, but attaining a level of fitness similar to that of my early 20’s was addictive. Interestingly, my concern became one of losing too much weight. When I fell below 160 pounds (72 kilos) my energy reserves depleted too quickly and I increased my protein intake eating trout, alpaca and cuy (Guinea pig)!
Finn did try walking on his hands at home in the Canadian Rockies, but our first duel handstand was on the beach in the freezing cold Humbolt current in Chiloe, Chile. Perhaps due to all the ‘likes’ on Facebook, this quickly became one of our ‘boys-games’ as we explored South America.
The vanity aspect is really rather obvious – it is wonderful to feel and look fit and while I enjoy the compliments as much as anyone, my photos of handstands in unique locations reminds me to stay healthy, active and not take life too seriously. It also offers a bridge for Finn and me to connect when I am away on one of my many journeys.
In addition to handstanding around the world, I remain an enthusiastic rock climber and hiker. Finn plays ice hockey and soccer. We both ski throughout the winter and Finn loves skateboarding … whether upside-down or racing along the ice, a focus on balance and core has proven effective in his sporting development.
Please feel free to contribute your handstands to our photo collection and please include a short description of the location.