For many yogis, handstand is considered a “goal pose,” an “Instagram pose,” a pose that says, “I’m legit. I’m an upside-down tree balancing on my hands.” In Sanskrit, handstand is called Adho Mukha Vrksasana, meaning “Downward-Facing Tree Pose.” That’s a tall order. Making your body as straight, strong and firm as a tree while using your hands as roots can be, to say the least, elusive and frustrating. How do you align with the divine while facing the real possibility of a face plant? (Pun intended, by the way, because, trees are plants…#nailedit).
Making your body as straight, strong and firm as a tree while using your hands as roots can be, to say the least, elusive and frustrating.
But whether handstand should be considered the “holy grail” of the asana practice is a topic for another day. What follows is my humble advice on how to get a handle on handstand.
* * * yoga handstand
My words of handstand wisdom can be summed up as such: “Go to the wall, and then learn how to fall.” The wall is your ultimate friend when it comes to practicing handstand. Get up close and personal with the wall. Let the wall have your back. Let the wall catch you when you fall. Love the wall. And then, when it’s time to stand on your own two feet — I mean, hands — thank the wall for a wonderful relationship, wish it well and let it go.
Phase 1: Building Your Strength in Downward Facing Dog
A solid Adho Mukha Vrksasana comes from a solid Adho Mukha Svanasana. For a well-aligned, strong Downward-Facing Dog, start on your hands and knees with your wrists directly underneath your shoulders and your knees just slightly behind your hip points. Spread your fingers wide. Grip the mat with your fingerpads so you feel a suctioning effect under your palms. Hug your forearms toward one another, and rotate your shoulders outward. Take a softening breath and, keeping the stable framework of your arms and shoulders, gently melt the space behind your heart towards the floor. Keeping all of this, lift your hips up and back into Downward-Facing Dog. As you breathe in the pose, keep moving your chest toward your thighs to shift more energy and weight into your legs. Stay here and breathe.
Establish a strong foundation for handstand by building your strength in Downward-Facing Dog. My teacher used to say, if you can hold a well-aligned Down Dog for two to three minutes, you are strong enough for handstand. From Adho Mukha Svanasana, move into Eka Pada Adho Mukha Vrksasana, or “One-legged Downward-Facing Dog Pose,” which will prepare you for the eventual “kick up” (which I prefer to think of as a “spring up,” but more on that later). From Downward-Facing Dog, come up onto the balls of your feet. Raise your right leg up and back behind you. Support the lift of the leg by firming your low belly and engaging your hamstring. See if you can lift the leg a little higher, and then lower your left heel towards the floor as you dynamically extend through the lines of the pose. Hold for about five breaths, then lower your right leg down. Take Balasana (“Child’s Pose”) to rest, then repeat, this time lifting the left leg up.
Phase 2: Springing to the Wall yoga handstand
Now it’s time to befriend the wall. Come to your hands and knees with your fingertips about three inches away from the wall. Follow the alignment cues described in Phase 1 to come into a well-aligned Adho Mukha Svanasana. Keeping the straight legs of Downward-Facing Dog, walk your feet in towards your hands about two or three steps. Lift your gaze between your hands. Keep it there. Come to the balls of your feet. Lift your “preferred leg” up behind you for Eka Pada Adho Mukha Vrksasana. Keep the lifted leg super straight and strong. Bend your bottom knee deeply. This will be your “springer” leg. Rather than “kicking” with your lifted leg for momentum, “spring” off your bottom leg. Spring off your bottom leg until your heels come to the wall. Keep your arms straight, press the floor away from you, squeeze your legs together and slide your heels up the wall. Breathe here.
Phase 3: Tapping the Wall
So you’ve got the support of the wall for “springing up.” Now you’re ready to start to playing with balancing. Keep your left heel pinned to the wall. Slowly draw your right foot away from the wall until your heel is in line with your right sitting bone. “Floint” (the middle ground between a flex and a point) the right foot strongly and keep your right leg pin straight. Now, slowly bring your left heel off the wall and allow your heel to keep lightly tapping the wall as you try to find your plumb line. When you find that “sweet spot” where your feet meet and you can hold steady for a breath or two, squeeze your legs together like crazy and root down through your arms. You could spend YEARS here playing with tapping the wall. This is the practice.
Phase 4: Learn to Fall, then Divorce the Wall
Once you feel comfortable springing up at the wall and finding your balance there, it’s time to move away from the wall. Here’
s what I’ve learned: Coming up into handstand in the middle of the room is a totally different story than coming up at the wall. Same alignment, different mentality. The psychological struggle of handstand away from the wall is all too
real, because fear comes into play. Therefore, you have to learn to fall. You have to develop an “exit strategy” to mitigate the fear factor. Here’s what I suggest (and if you can do this on the sand, even better): Kick up with wild abandon. Don’t hold back. Kick up with gusto and see what your body does naturally to break your fall. For many, it’s taking a hand out to the side and cartwheeling out. Others are comfortable just casually “flipping” over into a backbend! But for most yogis, myself included, taking a hand out to the side (usually it’s the same side as the lifted leg) is the way to go.
When you get comfortable falling out of handstand, the thought of balancing in the middle of the room eventually feels like “no big deal.” And that’s when you know it’s time to divorce the wall. That’s when you know you’ve got a handle on handstand.
Content goes hereLauren discovered yoga in early 2007 after graduating from college. As a former athlete and gym enthusiast, she found herself seeking a more balanced and holistic approach to exercise and overall wellness. After hearing about the myriad health benefits of yoga, she signed up for a beginner class at the Red Bank YMCA. Despite feeling inflexible, gangly and incredibly awkward, Lauren was intrigued by the practice of yoga. She started taking classes at Dancing Foot Yoga in Red Bank and fell in love with Anusara yoga, a style of hatha yoga known for its universal principles of alignment and emphasis on opening to grace both on and off the mat. After six years of study and practice, Lauren completed a 200-hour teacher training with Emily Huresky and Dina Crosta in 2013. She now teaches alignment-based vinyasa classes in the Anusara tradition. Lauren is also an English and Spanish teacher at Trinity Hall, an all-girls independent school in Tinton Falls, NJ, where she finds joy and inspiration on a daily basis.[/box]
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