The very act of turning yourself upside down can make you feel like a kid again. But there’s so much more to learning how to do handstand than just kicking up.
Handstand, known also by the Sanskrit name Adho Mukha Vrksasana, is one of the more challenging yoga poses, but when you’re able to get up and stay up, it also comes with a huge payoff.
The Benefits of Handstand
Handstand is a great way to turn your world upside down. According to Cortney Ostrosky, (pictured above) a long time yoga teacher in Charleston, S.C., handstand flips your perspective upside down and shakes things up a bit. Plus, it’s exciting and it feels good.
Ostrosky contends that its growth in popularity in recent years is partly due to people sharing images of themselves on social media.
“It requires so much practice that when people are able to get there they’re excited and want to share it with others,” she says.
Handstand, like many other inversions, has a number of physical and mental benefits worth noting, says Ostrosky. Here are a few:
- It helps you face your fears, especially the fear of injury or that of embarrassment when you fall out of the posture in a room full of students.
- It keeps your skin looking vibrant.
- It moves lymph fluid and helps get rid of metabolic waste, making it a great detox posture.
- It decompresses joints in the body.
- It builds strength in the shoulders, legs, and core.
- It works on balance.
- It works on flexibility in the shoulders and hips.
3 Crucial Yoga Poses to Prepare You for Handstand
Ostrosky, who has been practicing yoga for a decade, says that it took her around 3 to 4 years to master the posture. Today, she still practices it every single day to ensure that she’s able to maintain her ability. She does it in her personal yoga practice and then sporadically throughout the day. Whether she's watching television with her boyfriend or at the park with friends, she's constantly turning herself upside down.
When it comes to learning how to do handstand, she says that you first need to build the strength to get into and stay in the posture. Here are a few poses she says are essential to learning handstand.
Image of plank via Shuttershock
Plank builds the strength you need in your core, legs, and arms to prepare you for handstand. Here's how to do plank:
- Start on your belly with your toes tucked under and your hands below your shoulders.
- Extend your arms, bringing your body into a straight line.
- Make sure your thighs and hips are lifted and don't begin sinking.
- Draw your pelvic floor in toward your spine to engage your core.
- Extend the crown of your head so that it's in line with your spine.
- Hold for at least 10 breaths. Repeat once more.
2. L-Shaped Handstand
This is the ultimate handstand preparation and for those that really want to learn how to do handstand, you need to practice this pose most days of the week.
- Extend one leg out toward the wall so you know how far away you need to be.
- Get in downward facing dog away from the wall with your hands placed the distance your leg measured.
- Walk your legs up the wall until you're at a right angle. It should look like an L-shape.
- Hold and breathe for 10 breaths and then repeat.
- Once you're comfortable in this position, begin straightening one leg at a time into handstand.
3. Practice Falling Out of It
Image of a woman via Shuttershock
Ostrosky says that part of learning how to do handstand is learning how to safely fall out of it. This is especially true when you’re trying to do it in the center of the room and not against a wall.
- Practice cartwheeling out of handstand so that when you fall over you do it safely.
- Practice balancing in handstand whenever you have a safe opportunity, like in the park, in the living room, or on the beach.
How to Do Handstand
Things get really exciting when you're doing handstand away from the wall. Once you're comfortable at the wall, it's time to take the plunge to try and do the posture without any safety net. If you're too scared, you may want to enlist a friend or yoga teacher to help spot you until you feel more comfortable kicking up.
Here's a step by step process for how to safely get up and stay up in handstand:
- From down dog, shorten your stance by one-third.
- Shift your shoulders about 2-inches in front of your wrists.
- Begin handstand kicks by lifting your favored leg as high as you can. Then bend the leg that's still on the floor and spring both legs overhead.
- Your pelvis should be over your shoulders.
- Kick up five times on each side.
- Once you're able to hover in hop-ups you can slowly straighten your bent leg.
- Once you've got the strength, your less favored leg can be used to lift both legs.
Watch Cortney get into handstand:
Don’t Forget Wrist Therapy
Handstands are a weight-bearing exercise and if you don't give your wrists the love they need, it could cause injury. That said, if your wrists are already injured, this might not be the inversion for you. Here are some wrist stretches:
- Extend your right arm out in front of you with your fingers pointing toward the ground.
- With your left hand, pull your fingers back toward you. Hold for five breaths and switch hands.
- Then, place your left hand on top of your fingers and push in the other direction, stretching out the top of the wrist. Hold for five breaths and switch hands.
- Clasp your fingers and push your hands away from the body. Hold for ten breaths.
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Image: Cortney Ostrosky