How to Rock a Handstand

Ah, the elusive handstand.  

We’ve all seen pictures of gorgeous yogis just hanging around in this beautiful inversion.  They make it look so easy!  If you struggle with the handstand (or any inversion, for that matter), there are few things you should start with to build up your strength.  [wp_ad_camp_1]

Core, core, core!

Please note: I did not say “crunches, crunches, crunches.”  As a chiropractor, I have to make this distinction with patients a lot.  Core stabilization and six-pack abs are not synonymous and often people with one lack the other.  Many people argue, and I agree, that if you can’t maintain core stabilization in a difficult pose, you shouldn’t be holding it. It is the building block to success in exercise and in yoga. This will come up later in our handstand progression.

  • If you are aiming to improve core stabilization specifically for handstands, think about the position your core is in during a handstand: neutral (ideally).  Therefore, start with a pose like plank or low plank and practice keeping your back and core in a neutral, stabilized position.

Back, Glutes, and Hamstrings

  • You’re going to need low back, glute, and hamstring strength to control your kick up into the handstand.  My favorite pose to get your back fired up is Locust: make sure you active engage those glutes and keep your shoulders down.

Shoulders

  • I find shoulder weakness to be less limiting to handstands than one might think, but it still doesn’t hurt to build up strength there.  A great way to practice inversion shoulder strength is with down dog push-ups, or “pike push-ups.”

Wrists

  • Yup, you read that right.  Simple as it sounds, wrist strength can be the limiting factor for some people’s handstands.  You’re not only putting your wrist to the end range of its movement, you’re also loading that position with the entire weight of your body.  An easy way to keep your wrists strong is to keep a stress/squeeze ball by your work station and spend about 30 seconds to a minute twice a day working on your grip strength in a neutral position. Follow this with gentle forearm stretches.  If you’re in a wrist-demanding profession, it would be worth your time to invest in a gyro wrist ball.

 

The Road to Awesome: Handstand Progression

Besides muscle strength, you also need to practice inverted balance and start training motor pattern of kicking up into a handstand.  Here are a few yogic and non-yogic techniques to help you build the muscle memory you need to help achieve the handstand position.

 

Dolphin pose

dolphin pose yoga handstand yogatraveltree

I hated this pose at first!  But I soon realized it is an awesome way to work your way towards an inversion.  It requires significant shoulder and upper back flexibility.  Recommendations for this pose mirror many of those made with down dog: bring your chest towards your thighs, keep a little bend in your knees if you need to release your low back, and keep your butt up in the air! If you are practicing this specifically for a handstand, consider keeping your forearms and hands flat and separated (rather than clasped).

 

Crow/crane pose

crow pose yoga yogatraveltree

This is an excellent pose to help build balance, arm strength and wrist stability – all of which will help you with a handstand.

 

Rabbit pose

rabbit pose yoga yogatraveltree

From a flexibility standpoint, rabbit is really much better for the upper back; however, it is another great way to practice being inverted (or resting weight on your head, if you’re practicing headstands).  Much like dolphin, it is helpful in progressing into an inversion. All there is left to do is give it a try! Consider the following few activities as a progression into a handstand; if you can’t complete one, you’re not ready to move onto the next.

 

Headstand

headstand pose yoga yogatraveltree

This will be your first test of how your core and legs can handle balancing while being inverted.  I like to have people start on their head with fingers pointing towards their ears and elbows bent to a 90 degree angle.  Start by resting your knees on your elbows with your feet off the ground. If you can hold that, try to raise your legs or kick up into a headstand.  You may need to do this by a wall to help control your kick, but do not try a handstand until you can get into a headstand without the assistance of the wall.

 

Handstand against a wall

wall handstand yoga pose yogatraveltree

The hardest part about this for handstand newbies is the kick.  You’ll find that you will feel most comfortable leading with the same leg each time.  You may feel best doing this with the help of a partner to support your legs if you don’t get enough of a kick.  Again, don’t progress to an unassisted handstand if you can’t kick up without the help of a partner.

 

Wall-facing planks and wall walks

  • These are tricky.  I save these two maneuvers for last because they can really tax your back if you’re not ready for them.  However, when performed correctly, these will help you maintain the necessary neutrality in your low back and will get you comfortable with the shift of weight towards the back of your body.  With both of these moves, try to keep your head and neck in a neutral position between your shoulders.

Wall-facing planks

wall plank yoga yogatraveltree

Start by going into a plank pose with your feet low on the wall and your hands directly under your shoulders.  If you can easily hold that position, repeat it with your feet farther up and your hands closer to the wall.  Remember: you have to maintain abdominal pressure and a neutral low back before you can progress to a more difficult position.  Try to master a 30 second hold in each position before progressing to a more taxing angle. Wall walks

wall walk yoga yogatraveltree

Once you have reached a nearly vertical position in wall-facing planks, you can move onto wall walks.  To perform this, start in a regular plank pose with feet against the wall and walk yourself up into a wall-facing handstand. Hold the handstand here for about 30 seconds. Then, in a slow, controlled manner (with a neutral low back!), walk back into a plank. If this felt comfortable for you, you’re ready to try a handstand.

 

The grand poobah: HANDSTAND.

handstand pose yoga yogatraveltree

If you’re still new to handstands, don’t start cold – always warm up with some sun salutations or the poses listed above. When you’re ready, you may want to start with a spotter to grab your feet. I have also practiced handstands starting farther away from the wall hoping I wouldn’t ultimately need its support.  And from there it’s just patience, practice, and persistence!

Remember: inversions are not for everyone.  If you struggle with vertigo symptoms, migraines, shoulder pain, or are a woman on your cycle, you may not be a good candidate for inversions. Discuss your limitations with your yoga teacher or consult with your doctor if you are concerned. Go forth and invert, yogis!

 

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