Dave and I were talking after yoga and he asked me why we do handstands and headstands during our practice. I’m not a certified yoga instructor, and I don’t have all the answers but I do know that yoga is about balance and energy flow. Of course this sparked my interest and I thought it would be fun to put together a list of the reasons why I like to do handstands and share them with you. I’d love to hear your thoughts as well!
- Handstands make me feel like I’m a kid again, invincible, fearless!
- Humble me but also make me stronger, as I know that with practice (a lot of practice), handstands are totally attainable!
- Taught me to just trust myself and stop over thinking everything.
- Surrender to the fact that I will likely fall. I give into this so I can eventually fly!
- Concentration and paying attention to the subtle hints from my body.
- Strength, balance, and how muscles in the body have to work together.
- You get to go upside down! Talk about change in perspective.
- Instant mood enhancer.
I realize none of that list had anything to do with yoga!! So what are the benefits of inversions, particularly handstands, and why are they in our yoga practice? Let’s go over the easy reasons. Handstands help build shoulder, core strength, and they challenge both your balance and your control. Handstands require that you are totally aware of your body, present, and focused. I found after doing some research, that inversions allow for easier blood flow in the upper part of the body. Both the pituitary and thyroid glands are stimulated with the increase in blood flow, which can actually help with maintaining a healthy weight (source: Livestrong). Who knew going upside down was so beneficial to my health?
Inversions also have been shown to enhance your mood. My mood is boosted almost instantly after handstands, but maybe that’s because I feel like a kid when I’m doing them! Also the world literally flips upside down for those moments, so it’s no surprise so can change your mood!
Clearly a beginner in yoga is not going to be able to instantly do a handstand (unless you are super awesome) and most people, will have to build up their shoulder and core strength to do headstands. I personally had to build up my strength and also work on my willingness to fall!
How to Handstand Guide
Planks: Planks build both core strength and shoulder strength which is essential for handstands. Remember When to engage the entire body during this move. Hands under shoulders, fingers spread wide, knuckles glued to the floor. Active the legs, glutes, and abs. Your chest is broad and your shoulders are pulled back. However, be sure there is no dip in your lower back. As the name implies, the body should be in a perfect line from your head to your toes, so you could lay a plank of wood on your back and it would easily sit there.
From plank, you can increase your shoulder strength by practicing dolphin. In dolphin the forearms are on the mat, fingers still extended and palms flat on the mat. Shoulders are the focus here, but don’t forget to keep your butt out of the air! If you have your core engaged, and your back neutral, this won’t be a problem! If you really want to have some fun, get into dolphin plank then walk the feet up closer to the elbows. Hold this pose for 2 breaths then walk the feet back into plank. Continue this for 4-5 rounds of breath.
Remember how I mentioned falling gracefully? Well I fall into wheel, so I think this is a great pose to practice if you are working on handstands! It’s also great to know how to get out of wheel once you are there. Most of the time I practice my handstands against the wall but when I don’t, I sometimes fall forward and land in wheel! To get into wheel, just lay on your back and bring your feet as close to your butt as possible. Hands come close to the ears and you push up with your hands and feet at once, squeezing your butt and pushing through the hips. If this is difficult for you, you may want to attend a few classes and let the instructor know that is something you are working on.
“L Stand” or wall walks. Start in downward dog. Make sure you have a strong base on the floor, spread your fingers wide and glue your knuckles to the floor. Carefully walk one leg up the wall, then follow with the oppostite leg until your body is in the shape of an “L”. Hold for one breath and slowly walk back to downward dog. Repeat 8-10 times while practicing to build shoulder strength (and don’t hate me please).
Once you develop your strength with these moves, you will be ready to go upside down!
You may remember from my yoga inspired workouts that I love handstand prep hops! And trust me these are great for getting your shoulders on fire quickly! Start in downward dog and glue your fingers/knuckles to the floor. Walk your feet in closer to your hands. Bend the knees so that your butt is just over the ankles. Push through the feet and hop trying to get your feet off the floor. Do 20 at a time! Remember these are suppose to build strength but also be fun!
Headstand are the next move to master. These are just a little easier than handstands since your head is still on the floor to help keep you balanced. Start so that you are close to a wall, so you can use it to help catch you if you are just starting. Sit with your ankles directly under your legs, stacking your legs on top of eachother. Place your wrists and elbows on the floor and cup your hands cupped together. Place your head between your wrists and slowly raise one foot up into the air (think standing splits). Carefully, hop the other foot up off the ground a few inches, engage the core and really work to bring your foot up to meet the other. Again use the wall if you need it! Tripod headstand might be easier for some, so that is always an option as well. To perform tripod headstands, you first need to get into tripod. Start in standing splits, and lower your head down until the crown of your head touches the floor. Palms are flat on the floor, elbows at 90 degrees. Work your legs up so that your knees are resting on your elbows. From here you can slowly raise one leg up, then the other (don’t forget the wall is your friend).
Handstands! You made it 🙂 You should have some shoulders worthy of showing off at this point! Start in downward dog, and get a strong base on the floor. Don’t cheat yourself here. Glue your knuckles to the floor with fingers spread wide. Use the wall until you are confident 🙂 Just like handstand prep hop, walk your feet up to hands and butt in the air. Now instead of hopping, extend on leg up then hop the other to join it! Keep practicing until you can easily bring your feet to the wall. Once you are against the wall, work on kicking off the wall and trying to stabilize without the wall. Once you discover you really don’t need the wall to get into handstand, try it without the wall! Don’t forget that falling is part of the process!
What about you?
- Have you mastered the handstand yet?
- Do you have any tips to help master the process?
- Where’s the best place you’ve ever taken a handstand picture?