- “It’s challenging.”
- “It’s scary.”
- “It’s only for those young pretzel-ish people who do all the crazy yoga moves.”
- “It’s something that I’m sure I will NEVER be able to do.”
Any of those statements sound familiar?
You aren’t alone. It is scary and challenging BUT it’s not only for those pretzel people, age has nothing to do with it and it IS something that you will be able to do, if you want to.
It’s the “want” that is the key here.
If your insides say, “oh yeah…I am going to do that” then you will. It really is just as simple as that. It may take a week or a month or a couple of years but you WILL do it.
Now, here are all the wonderful benefits of doing handstands aka Adho Mukha Vrksasana (the Sanskrit word for Handstand).
When you hang out upside down and you feel the strength in the length of your arms, your shoulders engaged your strong core, your heart open toward the earth and you feel your toes reaching into space to anchor toward the ceiling or the sky, you feel…well…strong and powerful…completely empowered.
Your entire body is balance on your two arms. Enough said? 🙂
It’s a rush, no doubt! This is a working inversion and kicking up into handstand takes some effort. It gets the heart pumping and adrenalin moving. It’s the absolute BEST alternative to a cup of coffee or tea when you hit that low energy time in the afternoons.
Soothing to the nervous system.
This may sound strange and completely counter to the whole “it’s invigorating” idea. Also, considering the amount of anxiety and fear that can surround handstands, you may be shaking your head BUT handstands are very soothing to the nervous system once mastered. Just like any inversion, they work on the sympathetic and parasympathic nervous system once balance and hang time (much longer than a couple of seconds) is achieved and work to relieve anxiety creating a calm, quiet meditative state of mind.
There are very real physical/medical benefits you get to enjoy with handstand.
Handstands offer all sorts of lovely physical benefits such as decompressing the spine, improving your circulation and boosting your digestion, metabolic and endocrine system. I like them because there is no compression on the cervical area of the spine (neck) as in headstand so if you have those types of issues, handstand or handstand prep could be a much safer inversion for you to practice.
When I practice handstands, I feel free like I’m flying and can conquer anything. It’s an adventure and oh do I ever LOVE adventures and if I fall (which happens all the time), then no biggy. The cool thing about any yoga pose (asana) is you can always just try it again. Handstands keep me humble and grateful and remind me that we all fall (in life) and we all get back up, dust ourselves off and try again.
Here’s the Handstand Breakdown (assuming you’ve done several sun salutes and are nice and warm but not overly fatigued):
You’ll find this pose to be manageable if you take it in small steps. Below are six steps to get you into a solid handstand. Handstand demands strength in the arms, back, shoulders, core and even the glutes. You may very likely notice that once these areas of your body are strengthened, handstands become much easier to execute.
1. Start in downward facing dog.
You can use the wall if you have a fear of falling over backward but give yourself a good 12 inches between your hands and the wall. This will give you enough space to “feel your legs/feet” suspended without becoming dependent on the wall to catch you. You’ll know it’s there if you need it but try to work pretending the wall isn’t there. If you are using the wall, remember that your head and hands (upper body) are closest to the wall not your feet. Although you can access handstand that way (feet closest to the wall) and it’s fun and fabulous, that’s not the direction we are starting with.
While in downdog, bring your attention to your shoulder blades and shoulders. You want to make sure they are strong and engaged so you aren’t collapsing between the shoulders which sometimes happens when you are looking for that nice stretchy downdog where your heart falls toward the mat.
2. Spread your fingers wide and anchor through all four corners of the palms of the hand.
3. Make sure your navel is moving in deep toward the spine (core/belly muscles are engaged and strong) and the pelvic floor is lifted – think mula bandha and uddiyana bandha.
4. Start to walk your feet toward your hands and as you move forward, bring your heart to point right between your palms but don’t collapse between the shoulder blades. Shoulders will be right over your wrists and strong.
5. Look at your mat. Recheck that your core and pelvic floor are still lifted and strong.
Half Handstand Kick Up
6. Begin to lift or kick one leg up. You may need to practice kicking or lifting the leg several times to start. Be sure to practice lifting/kicking BOTH legs, not just one. After you practice with the right leg, switch and try lifting the left leg first. It will feel different on both sides.
You may find a little hang time, you may just practice lifting/kicking one leg then the other, you may go right up into handstand. But once you get one leg up, lift the other to meet it. Extend through your tailbone toward the ceiling, keep your belly and pelvic floor strong. Remember to breathe!
Once you find it easy to get up into handstand lifting/kicking one leg at a time with or without the wall, switch to lifting/kicking both legs at once.
Once you are done, give yourself space and time in child’s pose (then on to the rest of your practice or savasana).
Ok…here are a couple more little tips to remember that might help you in this pose.
- Try not to let your rib cage fly forward and cave into your low back. It will throw you out of balance.
- Keep the legs strong.
- Try it with flexed feet then play around, once you are up, with changing your foot position (point through the toe mound or try pointing the toes) to see what feels right for you.
- Keep the shoulders a little soft and think about using your “Lats” (Latissimus Dorsi – muscles in the back) rather than taking the brunt of the pose in the shoulders. This will prevent shoulder injury.
- In the palms, think about little pockets of air under the palms and press all the way out into the pads of the fingers.
Handstand Wall Prep
Aaaand one more tip…if downdog is difficult for you, start out at the wall with hands on the wall. Feet are under the hips, hinging forward from the femur bones (think how a Barbie Doll folds forward) with your upper body parallel to the floor. Practice here first to work the legs, pelvic floor, low belly muscles, lats, arms, palms. See image to the right!
Eventually, you’ll find yourself in this wonderful pose enjoying all the benefits it has to offer!
As always, let me know how handstand impact you and your yoga practice by leaving a comment below or shouting me out on Facebook or Twitter. Love to hear what you have to say!