Kicking up into a Handstand, Adho Mukha Vrksasana, is one of the most challenging yoga poses. Learning to balance on the hands takes daily practice, and it can be compared to what a child experiences when learning to walk. Building strength and finding balance in Handstand, takes unwavering determination as well as time, energy and mindfulness. Build strength, let go of fears, and find balance, while practicing these Handstand preparatory postures.
Handstand takes strength and flexibility in the shoulders and upper back. In order to build strength and practice engaging the muscles in the upper back and shoulders, work on aligning the body in Urdhva Hastasana, or Upward Salute, while standing with the feet grounded onto the floor before turning upside down.
Move into Urdhva Hastasana: Bring the feet hip-width distance apart. On an inhale breath, bring the palms up over the head. Straighten the arms as much as possible, aligned over the shoulders, if accessible. If aligning the palms over the shoulders is not accessible, open the palms wider like the letter, “V”.
Straightening the arms in Handstand is paramount. If the arms lose engagement, the body will not hold the posture, and you will inevitably fall. Practice keeping the arms straight and engaged. Flex the wrists by bringing the palms facing the ceiling. Engage the shoulder blades and notice if the ribs are protruding. Draw the lower
ribs inwards towards the spine. Lengthen the tailbone towards the heels and notice this action allows the core to become firm and engaged. Firm the legs by engaging the
quadriceps and lifting the knee caps.
The body is firm, grounded and standing in an upside down Handstand. Hold for 3-5 breaths, creating long and steady inhales and exhales. Next preparatory action which helps to encourage engagement of the upper back, arms and shoulders: Grab a block or a book. Bring the block over the head. Press the palms in towards the block. Notice that the arms are working and engaged. The outer arms are firm and drawing inward towards the mid-line of the body. Notice the upper back becomes engaged and the shoulder blades come flush to the back. These are important alignment cues used in Handstand. Notice if the ribs are protruding. If they are, draw the ribs inward towards the spine. This helps to bring more extension to the spine and it helps to encourage the body in one straight line, rather than allowing a “sway back” or sometimes called, “banana back.”
“L” Pose: Practice going upside down with support of the wall by come into an “L” pose: Move into the shape of the letter “L” onto the wall. Come to sit against the wall with the back facing the wall. Bring a block or a book (a placement marker) and measure the legs. Place the block or book in-line with the feet. This is an indication of where your palms will go in the next pose.
Stand up and bring your palms in line with the block or book with your heels facing the wall. Begin to walk the feet up the wall until you are in the shape of the letter “L” or at a ninety degree angle with the feet, hips and head. Draw the shoulder blades down the back and notice if the ribcage is protruding outward. Draw the lower ribs inwards towards the spine. Keep the arms straight and engaged.
Stay here and breathe while building strength in the upper body. If you want to go further, slowly begin to lift one leg at a time towards the ceiling to feel the sensation of being upside down. Stay here and breathe for 3-5 full rounds of breath, one inhale and one exhale equals one round of breath. Create long and smooth inhales and exhales. Slowly walk the feet down the wall when you’ve had enough. Come into Child’s pose to relax, allowing the breath to come back to natural.
After building strength over time in the postures above, option to practice walking the palms closer to the wall in order to bring the body more erect into a supported Handstand against the wall. You can ask a friend to help support you as you come into the pose as added support. As your friend to come to the side of your body (rather than behind in case you fall backwards).
Come to a Handstand by first coming into an “L” pose and then walking the feet up the wall and walking the palms towards the wall. This posture allows you to use the support of the wall to find balance while still building strength and proper engagement of the muscles. If you do not feel stable or if you feel unsure or fearful in this variation, do not come as close to the wall with the palms. Keep a distance away from the wall with the palms a few feet or as far as needed away from the wall so that the body can lean against the wall. If the arms begin to buckle or you feel unstable or unbalanced, slowly come out of the posture and work on one of the poses above.
Come into Child’s Pose and relax. Allow the breath to calm and come back to a natural state of breathing. Notice the amount of determination, focus and strength that these poses require. No amount of efforts in yoga are wasted. Acknowledge your efforts and let-go of any judgments or negative-self dialogue.
Check with your doctor before performing any form of exercise including yoga and breathing techniques. Always honor your body. If a posture gives you pain, gently come out.
Christi Iacono, owner of In Rhythms Yoga
Christi Iacono is a certified yoga teacher, at the 500 hour level, and she is the owner of In Rhythms Yoga, in Clairemont. IRY is a small neighborhood studio in Clairemont, S.D., located in the Mount Streets. Christi has experienced many positive physical and mental transformations from her regular yoga practice. She enjoys sharing her experience, passion, and dedication with her students. She believes that yoga is accessible to all. Rather than forcing someone’s body into a pose, Christi carefully works with each individual to find the variation that will best serve their body. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more info.
IRY offers regularly scheduled classes on, Sat., Sun. and Wed. mornings as well as a Tues. evening class. Meditation classes start the last Thursday in Oct., from 6-7 p.m. and run for 4 weeks, consecutively. Go to www.inrhythmsyoga.com to see the full schedule, instructors and for private lessons.