Finding Joy in Movement

Adho Mukha Vrksasana/ Handstand

The handstand is one of my favorite (OK, my favorite) pose, and an entire art unto itself in the circus world. Handstands can be intimidating for a lot of people, but with a few things in mind, they need not be. I’ll start with beginning variations and work my way forward from there.

Most people will take the handstand against the wall to begin. Place the hands as close to the wall as you can and shoulder width apart (you might start with the hands 3-4 inches away then work your way in as you begin to feel more comfortable). Bring one leg forward bending it slightly, then pressing through the hands and keeping the arms straight, kick up with the opposite leg, followed closely by the leg you just pushed off of. The elbows should stay as locked as possible and the shoulders should press up toward the ears, taking the head as far away from the floor as possible. Point the toes and firm the glutes. Look back an inch or two behind the palms or even straight back to the opposite wall. Tuck the tailbone as you try to take any curve out of the back. Staying connected to your core is key to finding stability and ease in this pose. We are looking to eventually create a straight line from the hands to the shoulders, through the spine to the hips and all the way to the feet.

For many people, a lack of openness in the shoulders prohibits them from maintaining this straight line. If this is you, the best thing you can do for your handstand is to work on opening up the shoulders (in downward dog or against a wall). If you have a chair and a friend who can help you, you can kneel on the floor with your arms extended and the hands on the chair while your friend gently presses down on your shoulders. Be sure to keep your tailbone tucked so this stays a shoulder stretch and not just a backbend. Once you are open enough in the shoulders to create this straight line, it actually requires a lot less strength to maintain your handstand than in the beginning when you are fighting against this shoulder inflexibility.

There are a couple of good ways to help find a straight line in the body. If you lay down on your back with the arms extended and lift the arms and the legs about half an inch away from the floor while looking toward the toes, this is basically the position we are looking for in handstand. When you get comfortable facing away from the wall in your handstand, try facing in. Placing the hands on the floor a couple feet away from the wall, walk the feet up the wall and walk the hands in until you can touch your nose to the wall (try and touch just the feet and the nose, with the rest of the body slightly off the wall). I recommend being comfortable rolling out of a handstand before trying this, but if you are, this is a great way to ensure that you are not arching the back.

The second thing you can do is to stand with your back against the wall with the arms by your side and the heels together and right at the wall. Press the lower back firmly into the wall (essentially tucking the tailbone), then slowly start to raise the arms out in front, letting the backs of the hands get as close to the wall as you can while still maintaining contact between the lower back and the wall. When you find where your edge is, stay there trying to maintain this contact while pressing the arms up. Stay for one minute. Rest, then repeat. If you do this every day, you will greatly improve your handstands.

Once you can comfortably hold a handstand against the wall for 30 seconds, you are ready to move to the middle of the room. Many people stay reliant on the wall and never progress from this point. If you want to go further however, you must get away from the wall. Kicking up is fine, though it is less controlled than tucking up. To tuck up, place the hands on the floor, then with a little hip, pull both knees into the chest, pull the heels into the buttocks and press through the shoulders. Staying tucked brings the center of gravity lower and will help you to find stability in your balance before eventually extending the legs up to the ceiling.

Once you have gotten comfortable with both tucking up and holding a handstand with the legs extended, you will want to practice pressing up into a handstand. The best way to do this is actually to lower down from a handstand. You can tuck up into your handstand, then slowly lower the legs. Try and find your edge and hold for 15 seconds. To begin with, you can tuck down, then straddle the legs as you lower, and finally keep the legs both straight and together as you bring them down. As you practice, you will be able to hold the legs closer and closer to the floor and eventually bring them all the way to touch the floor then back up again.

Of course, once you have mastered the handstand, you can then move on to the one-handed handstand, though we will save that discussion for later 🙂

If you have any questions, please leave a comment below. I’d love to hear from you or see you at one of my <a href="”>classes!

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