Here’s the thing with yoga as we know it in the modern world: you can stand on your hand your hands, and still be an asshole. You can touch your toes to your head, and not be very kind to the person at the checkout counter.
Who cares if you can get all pretzeled up, or balance on one freaking fingertip if you aren’t taking the depth of the yoga practice with you?
The true benefits of the yoga practice extend well beyond the known physical benefits like improved flexibility, increased strength, and greater balance. I’m not saying the physical benefits aren’t great- because they are! My body loves the way it feels after yoga.
What I am saying is that the juice of the practice is what lies underneath the postures. It’s the patience, compassion, and inner knowing that you cultivate while you challenge yourself in those preztely shapes.
One of the best ways to continually tap into the depth of the practice is to keep playing with a variety of shapes, pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone, and challenging yourself to try new things. Like getting upside down!
Yoga handstands (otherwise known as adho mukha vrksasana) are one of those pinnacle poses that can equally challenge the body and mind. This is why whenever I teach handstand workshops on my retreats, or trainings the first thing we focus on isn’t the body, or physical alignment. It’s the mind. We hone in on the fears that may be present when it comes to getting upside down. And then work through those fears through mindful movement and aligned shapes.
Today’s post will share a step-by-step progression on how to do yoga handstands correctly so that you can tap into your own sense of empowerment and confidence.
What Is Yoga Handstand Progression
The most important thing to remember when you’re starting to practice yoga handstands is that you must be properly warmed up in all of your major muscle groups. This is really a full body experience, so doing a full body warm up is always suggested.
If you want a quick class to get you nice and warm, check out my No Time For Yoga series. You can also check out this post HERE on yoga inversions for all levels, to help get you comfortable with your handstand practice.
Make sure to incorporate plank pose and crow pose into your practice as often as you can. This is to build strength in your hands, wrists, and shoulder muscles while also tapping into core strength, as well. Handstand requires a ton of upper body strength, so daily planks can certainly help with this.
It’s also vital to remember that handstands are more easy to achieve when they’re done with correct alignment. Because the stacking of the joints helps you to balance. This is why I’ve created a step-by-step guide for progression to handstand, so that you can stay in alignment as you work your way towards the fullest expression.
How To Do Yoga Handstand
As you prepare to move through the progression to handstand, make sure you don’t forget to take it slow! I can’t tell you how often my students will rush through the steps. That’s because they just want to get to the end goal. But the truth is, when you rush, you usually lose control. And when you lose control, you’re likely going to fall.
And, as always, don’t forget to always keep breathing as you build strength, even in the most challenging yoga poses.
Step 1: Stack Shoulders Over Wrists
Start in Downward Facing Dog. Then slowly walk your feet closer to your hands until your shoulders stack over your wrists. This will help you to ground down into your hands. Rather than focusing on flinging your legs forward over your shoulders.
The more open your hamstrings are, the closer your feet will get to your wrists, which is helpful! Why? Because, the closer your feet are to hands, the more you’re able to walk your hips over your shoulders. Which means you’re already quite inverted and won’t need to kick as hard.
Step 2: Align Your Foundation
Make sure your hands are placed on the mat at shoulder width distance, as you actively claw into the mat with your fingers like your trying to bunch it up into your palms. Fix your gaze at the horizon of your fingertips. And keep it there as you play with your kick into handstand.
Keep your feet at hips width distance behind you to start. And try to stabilize through your hands and feet to feel a deep lift into the core.
Step 3: Compression
If you’re terrified of kicking too hard and falling over, or if you have a super bendy back and know you’ll be a little floppy- then grab for a yoga block, rolled towel, or small pillow. Choose something soft enough that if it falls and hits you, it won’t hurt (ie: don’t choose a book or a water bottle).
Although you will practice kicking on both sides, choose one side to start. Place your soft item between the thigh of the leg that will kick and your belly. Compress the item to your belly by hugging your thigh in close.
Step 4: Kick To Handstand
Inhale to lift the leg that isn’t holding your soft item. Try to stretch your toes skyward to engage your entire leg, as this will help you kick with more control.
Exhale to kick with the leg compressing your soft item. Make sure to keep your item snuggled between your thigh and belly as you kick as much as you keep the extended leg straight and strong.
Step 5: Hangtime in Handstand
The purpose of compressing your soft item into your belly is that this forces you to maintain a long, strong spine- rather than arching and falling into Wheel Pose, or losing control. Although you’re kicking, try to imagine that you can slowly lift your hips over your shoulders, rather than fling them.
Find your center point of balance here, with your kicking knee bent into your chest compressing your soft item, and your top leg straight and active. This will help you to build muscle memory so that your body knows how to find its center point of balance when you’re ready to extend both legs into full handstand.
Step 6: Full Handstand
When you feel confident in your center point of gravity, and you’re ready to extend both legs, then slowly trace the inner thigh of the extended leg with the toes of the leg that’s compressed.
Tracing your inner thigh will give you direction. As sometimes, it can be disorienting to know which way is up or down when you’re inverted.
Keep your legs and toes as activated as possible to help feel more controlled as you stack your hips over shoulder, and shoulders over wrists. Squeeze your glutes, and grip the mat with your fingers for control.
Now, if all of that sounds terrifyingly impossible for you, then you can practice the same thing in an L-shape handstand on the wall. Rather than kicking, you’ll walk your feet up the wall.
I like to suggest this version of handstand with the wall. Rather than kicking for the wall (when you face away from the wall once you’re upside down), because L-shape handstands help to build alignment, muscle memory, and strength needed for handstanding without the wall.
Let me know which tip was the most helpful for you in the comments below.
Happy handstanding, my friends!