Handstand is something I’ve wanted for a while, but yet I haven’t put too much focused practice into it. In the past I’d try to throw myself up into one, from time to time and would wonder why I would never see improvement. After hanging out with some fellow yogis the other week, and seeing them throw themselves into inversions with such ease I knew I needed to find a regiment for myself to start drilling. The only way to find improvement in a focused pose is to work on it exclusively. I take plenty of yoga classes a week and teach them, but my home practice was lacking, that stops now. A week into my journey to handstand, I had a student and friend ask me about techniques to work on achieving this same goal, so this post is for Buck.
Exercise 1, Journey to Handstand, Navasana Roll Ups
Navasana Roll Ups are an underutilized and many times overlooked exercise. This Exercise starts with you rolling yourself back into plow pose, halasana, and then using momentum to roll yourself up to navasana, boat pose. This type of momentum could easily have you rolling all the way up to seated or falling on your face so the trick is to be able to stop yourself balancing on your tailbone. The control it takes to stop the body in this position rather then to keep going forward is the same kind of control that is needed in achieving handstand. In handstand you can easily throw yourself up into the pose and use too much momentum and fall over. A lot of control is needed to be able to jump up, stack the joints and hold the body here rather than topple over. Practice Navasana Roll Ups and begin to feel comfortable being able to halt the body just like you’ll discover in Handstand.
Exercise 2, Journey to Handstand, Lotus Lifts
Lotus Lifts are a great exercise to find the activation we want through our pelvic floor and through our core when working towards handstand. By keeping the arms right by our side we can also work on finding the stacking of the shoulders, elbows and wrists. This exercise helps us work on the type of strength we want in our shoulders and helps us begin to work on the activation you need through the hands, pressing into the heels and gripping through the first finger pads.
To find this pose, either bring the legs into Lotus or you can also cross the ankles for Sukhasana, easy pose. Once you have the leg placement that works, place your hands right by your sides, stacking the joints. Take a big inhale and as you exhale press into you hands and lifts your bum off the ground. Take at least one full round of breathe and then bring the body down. Repeat as many as you can do.
Exercise 3, Journey to Handstand, Seated Wide Angle Lifts
Seated Wide Angle Lifts is just another way of working on the same focus’ as Lotus Lifts. Once you feel you master the Lotus Lifts try to challenge yourself and try these Seated Wide Angle Lifts. The hands are different as one hand is forward and one is behind you, but the press through the heels of the hands and through the fingers tips is the same. This is also a great exercise to working on your breathing. Being inverted is a wild and fun feeling but once you stop breathing the pose is over an you’ll most likely need to come out of it as soon as possible. Once you feel your bum and heels lifts off the ground, work on taking as many breathes as you can before you release your body all the way back down to the mat. Repeat this exercise as many times as you can.
Exercise 4, Journey to Handstand, Egg Shaped Crunches
The Egg shape is the first shape we want to achieve in free-standing handstand. Before letting the legs rise up we want to work on first finding stability in the egg shape, the same shape we work on when first exploring headstand.
To do the Egg Shape Crunch, start lying on your back with your feet on the ground (like bridge pose) and have your hands cradling the back of your head. Inhale lift your feet up off the ground and bring the knees toward your chest aka The Egg Shape. Exhale, lift your head and shoulders up off the ground and Inhale, lift your tailbone off the ground, crunching deeper into The Egg Shape really engaging your core. Core engagement is key to finding handstand so let’s start here.
Exercise 5, Journey to Handstand, Handstand Pops
This exercise is meant to create an understanding of how much strength goes into pressing through the hands and shoulders, and engaging the core to lift the feet ever so slightly off the ground.
To get into this exercise, start in downward facing dog and than walk the feet in towards the hands until the shoulders, elbows and wrists are as stacked as the body allows. Take a big inhale and with trying to keep the legs straight, exhale and press the ground away, lift all the way through the shoulders, engage your core and just let your feet ever-so slightly rise up off the mat.
Exercise 6, Journey to Handstand, Headstand Lifts
Working towards handstand is a whole lot of core work. Achieving Headstand lifts teaches us just how much ab work goes into finding handstand and achieving control to hold this peak pose.
Headstand Lifts start with you coming into tripod headstand. There are now three different options on what kind of lifts we will do. I have shown these from the hardest (Pike), to the Intermediate option (Straddle) to the easiest level (egg shape). I like the idea of pushing myself to achieve the hardest option, so maybe I only do one Pike, and than 2 Straddles and than 3 egg shapes. Train your body with these lifts to find balance and strength.
Exercise 7, Journey to Handstand, Egg Shape Jump Ups
It’s finally time to take everything we’ve worked on and start putting towards the actual handstand.
Come into Downward facing dog and walk the feet in a few steps. Really press into the heels of the hands and the finger tips, know your grip. Inhale bend your knees so your hips come back towards the heels of your feet, Exhale use your core, your shoulders and momentum to lift your hips up over your shoulders, try your best to achieve The Egg Shape.
There is a ton of exercises one can practice to work towards handstand, but these are some of my current favorites. Know that I am in this journey with you and we are all in this together. Enjoy this routine and feel free to ask any questions.