What is a handstand? My teacher Chappy used to say that handstand is tadasana (mountain pose) upside down. The palms are pressing into the earth instead of the feet. The heels, hips and shoulders are all stacked on top of one another. The front ribs gently draw in and the spine is long and strong.
Why do handstand? Nailing a perfect handstand in the middle of the room is exhilarating and requires focus, body awareness and strength. Cultivating these traits in our practice overflows into our lives and is rewarding on many levels. It’s also really fun to do at parties to impress your friends, (haha not really, that is a recipe for injuries).
Build core and upper-body strength
Reverse the effects of gravity
Develop body awareness
How do I master handstand? As a yoga teacher, I see a lot of people throwing themselves wildly into handstand from down-dog, much like how my husband describes my dancing abilities. I believe the word he uses is flailing. I am working with my students to lift up into handstand rather than kick up. To truly master handstand, utilize certain techniques so that you float up into the pose instead of flailing around like me at a dance party.
Follow this step-by-step guide for entering handstand from standing splits:
- Warm up with a few sun salutations
- From uttanasana (standing forward fold) place your fingertips on the earth while deepening the breath.
- With each exhale, try to press your palms flat into the earth a few inches in front of your feet.
- Keep your spine long and relax the neck. If your palms don’t come all the way to the earth that’s fine. Be patient and practice often to create this flexibility.
- Lift one leg up behind you into standing splits.
- If it is difficult for you to keep the standing let straight, use blocks beneath the hands.
- To deepen the stretch, wrap a hand around the standing ankle and draw your forehead to the shin.
- Keep the spine long, the standing leg straight and the neck relaxed.
- Place the palms on the earth in front of you. Walk them forward if this causes your standing knee to bend. As the hamstrings open, you will be able to place the palms just a few inches from the feet.
- Press the hands evenly into the earth and lift onto the tip toes of the standing foot.
- Lean your weight into the hands as you press the earth away from you.
- Lift from the inner thigh of the lifted leg as you roll onto the tippy tips of the toes.
- With all of the weight into your hands, lean forward so that your shoulders come past your wrist creases. Lift so much with your inner thigh that you float up off of your standing foot.
- You might hop a little at first to rise up. As you practice this more and more, your hop will become more of a float and you will lift slowly without momentum.
- Find the balance in the splits variation. One leg will be straight up to the sky, the other leg will be hovering a few feet off of the earth.
- Once you balance in the splits variation, slowly lift your other leg up.
- Spread the toes and hug the thighs in toward one another as if you had a block between them.
- Draw your front ribs in and the arms straight with the palms pressing into the earth.
- Look at the floor for balance. Eventually play with letting the head go. This is less pressure on the neck and it also helps you to straighten up and lengthen more toward the sky.
The key to any tough pose is practice, practice, practice! Remember to warm up before attempting the above sequence.