At a typical baseball game or practice, you can expect a lengthy warm-up. In a yoga class, a warm-up generally lasts 10-15 minutes, but (if you include batting practice for both teams) the warm-up for a baseball game is at least a few hours. During batting practice, what are the pitchers doing? Short answer: essentially nothing.
So, a question a yoga teacher might ask is: why not use this time to practice handstand?
This might sound silly, but if pitchers practiced handstand for 5-10 minutes during each warm-up throughout the season, I would expect them to become better pitchers by the end of the season.
Yes, of course, they would see all the physical benefits that come with practicing handstand — strength-building, increased flexibility, cardiovascular improvement, etc. — yet pitchers would see more improvement from more subtle and profound elements of a consistent handstand practice. For simplicity, I’ll call these the “profound benefits”, and I’ll keep it to just four.
The first profound benefit of practicing handstand is enhanced proprioception, or body awareness. For pitchers, coordinating bodily motion in space is crucial to “command” every pitch and to repeat these mechanics throughout an at-bat, inning, game, and season. Even seemingly trivial flaws can mushroom into performance issues, injury, and, in some situations, complete loss of control (sorry, Rick). The aspiring handstanding pitcher develops an understanding of their body’s relation to itself in space and how to repeat this process to make the outcome more predictable, just like pitching.
Profound benefit number two: delayed gratification. Balancing the entire body on just the hands may seem impossible, but consistent and honest effort over time make a strong handstand much more probable. A baseball season is a long haul with the ultimate goal in the distant future. The journey for the “perfect” handstand offers a separate but related goal, teaching the mindset of “one attempt at a time”. Taken to the mound, this becomes “one pitch at a time”, the incremental nature of the sport ingrained in the pitcher’s psyche.
Fun, the third profound benefit, may seem trivial, but any yoga teacher will tell you that you rarely see a frown in a student that just attempted a handstand. The mental and physical diversion of handstand would help to break up the grind of the pitchers’ season with laughing, failing, and learning. This experience stirs up feelings of childhood and reminds us of how it feels to have fun, providing a pure outlook on what it means to “play” baseball.
The fourth and final profound benefit: focus. Athletic performance, just like holding a handstand, requires pure focus and attention. In the flow of pitching, nothing else exists, nothing but the next pitch matters. Well, that’s an ideal scenario. In reality, a pitcher’s mind wanders, they become self-conscious, anxiety sets in, and their focus is lost. In the process of learning to handstand, a pitcher learns to focus and, more importantly, breathe to stay calm and present in the moment. The benefit here is truly profound.
So, will we ever see pitchers practicing handstands? If eager coaches and players meet a skilled teacher, why should handstands be any less common than whatever this guy (the one laying down) is doing?
On that note, why wouldn’t a handstand practice benefit any athlete in any sport?