Who needs a flashy title? Here are the steps to follow to get upside down faster and safer. Plain and simple.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen people get in a right flap about being able to handstand or not. For some reason Adho Mukha Vrksāsana (as it’s known in Sanskrit) is considered the posture that separates the men from the boys, although anyone with any grasp of non-attachment would know that’s simply not true.
As with any posture, you need to warm up into it, you need to build the strength and flexibility to hold it, and you need to take the modifications appropriate to you where you are on any given day. The postures below will give you all the building blocks you need to float up into a handstand safely and methodically.
Warming Up for Handstands
One of the more common places for injury in inversion practices, and yoga in general, is the wrists. You need the ninety degree extension of the wrist in a handstand, so the hands can be flat to the ground.
Wrist Stretches for Handstands
- Come to an all fours position with the hands below the shoulders. Spread the fingers wide and press the knuckles down, and then allow the weight to shift forward until you feel a nice stretch through the bottom of the forearms. Hold for five deep breaths.
- Flip the tops of the hands onto the mat so the fingers point back to you, hands still under the shoulders. Draw the weight backwards until you feel the stretch through the fronts of the forearms. Five more breaths.
- Palms to the floor again, but this time point the fingers away from the midline so the wrists point in. Hands still under the shoulders. Bend the elbows out until you feel a good stretch through the bottom of the forearms again. Five breaths.
- Last one: flip to the tops of the hands with the fingers pointing in. Keep most of your weight in the knees so you can control the stretch. If you’re not feeling a stretch, walk the hands wider until you find the stretch you want. Final five breaths.
Find Tadāsana, Find the Form
Although it seems simple, Tadāsana (or Mountain Pose) is actually just an upside down handstand, so by finding your Tadāsana you draw your awareness to handstand form without the added difficulty of balance.
- Stand with the big toes together and the heels slightly apart. Flex through the glutes and the thighs without locking out the knees. Pull the inner thighs together and engage through the base of the body — mūla bandha in yoga talk.
- Pull the belly button to the spine (uddiyana bandha) while keeping the breath long and even. Draw in the low ribs and release the shoulder blades down the back. Lift through the back of the neck.
With so much to focus on here and keep engaged, it’s easy to hold the breath in this pose. Once you’re confident with the regular flow of breath you can rise onto the tiptoes to further engage the legs, or raise the arms up to the ceiling (keep the shoulders down) to find the form of the arms when you’re upside down.
Heading into Handstands
Step 1: Downward Facing Dog
As with any pose you need to build into it bit by bit. Classic down dog is actually considered an inversion itself and — with some helpful variations — helps you find the muscle engagement and strength to move into your handstand.
- Find that classic upside down V posture we know and love. Make sure your hands are shoulder-width apart with the index fingers pointing forward and the shoulders are dropping down the back.
- To build strength in the shoulders we find a down dog press up. On an exhale bend the elbows to the sides and drop the head forward; inhale come back up to normal down dog. Perform five to ten of these following the rhythm of the breath.
- Next, we strengthen the glutes and open the hip flexors and backs of the legs. Lift up your right foot on an inhale while keeping the hips squared to the ground. Hold for five to ten breaths and switch sides. Repeat both sides three times.
Step 2: Get Upside Down
Now’s the time to put this all into practice. Find a good clear patch of wall (maybe clear away anything you don’t want to fall onto) and place the hands about half a foot away from it. Kick the legs up against the wall until you find yourself upside down. Revisit everything we looked at in Tadāsana above to find the form, while allowing the body to get used to the feeling of being upside down.
- To build more strength in the shoulders feel free to do some upside down shoulder presses where you bend and stretch the arms. Might be good to put a block under the head so you know you’ve gone low enough.
- Try taking one foot away from the wall at a time to figure out where your balance is on your hands, perhaps floating the feet away for a few seconds at a time.
Step 3: Get Hopping
The most reliable way people learn to come up into a handstand is by practising. Once you’ve warmed up, gotten comfortable with the idea of being upside down, and found your form. Find a clear space to practice jumping up. A few options here are…
- Scissor Kicks: From down dog, lift the right leg into the air, jump up and switch the legs in the air so the right foot lands and the left foot stays up.
- Frog Jumps: Bend through the knees and jump up with the soles of the feet pressing together and the knees going out wide.
- L-Jump: Jump up to lift the hips above the shoulders, but stay bent at the waist making an upside letter L with the body.
Most importantly, expect to fall over — there’s not a single yogi who’s ever jumped into a handstand without first losing count of the amount of times they’ve bailed, so start bailing!
Written by: Joshua LeClair