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You CAN Do a Handstand! Here’s How…

For some, a yoga handstand is child’s play. In their first yoga class, these people channel their inner, playful eight year-old and launch up into a handstand with the greatest of ease, unsure why anyone would ever have a problem with it.

I am not one of those people.

When I first started yoga in 2008, I could barely even hop on one leg while in downward-facing dog in an attempt to get up. I was growing in all other areas of my practice, but I dreaded every time the teacher said, “Now let’s go to the wall.” I struggled for years with this pose, and it was negatively affecting me. So, in 2010, my one and only New Year’s resolution was to get into a handstand, conquer the fear, and never let it affect my practice again.

After 11 months of practicing in class and at home, I arrived upright! It was such an energizing and vibrant experience that made me certain that I could do even more advanced poses in the future.

As someone who struggled with this pose for two years, I have pretty good insight into the fears, struggles, inner dialogue and physical sensations that go into a handstand. I also know from experience that all of these can be overcome.

Here are some tips for getting up into your first handstand on a wall:

  1. Conquer the fear that your arms and shoulders are too weak:
  2. If you can hold yourself up when you are standing on your hands with your feet on the wall at 90 degrees, you can get into a handstand. Know that the strength to hold yourself up here is enough to hold yourself up fully against a wall and do it as a preparation each and every time you practice your handstand. However, don’t get frustrated that you can do this step, but aren’t vertical yet!

  3. Listen to your other fears, acknowledge them, and then think creatively about how to address them:
  4. I had a paralyzing fear that the wall would move away from me when I would start to get vertical. Seriously. This irrational fear prevented me from ever kicking hard enough to get myself upright. To address this, I used a hallway where the walls were close enough that I could make a 90 degree angle with my feet on one wall and my hands at the base of another wall. From there, I would lift one leg up and launch myself into a handstand. That way, I was always aware of where the wall was and could get into a the feeling of a handstand. If you have any similarly irrational fears, acknowledge what they are and use props and people to help you overcome them.

  5. Don’t be stubborn, get out of your rut:
  6. I thought that if I was ever going to get into a handstand by myself, that I shouldn’t use teachers to help me get up. By doing that, I thought, I was training my body to be reliant on outside help.

    Don’t make this mistake.

    Very shortly after letting my teachers help me, I was able to get up by myself.  Getting the extra lift from 150 degrees to 180 showed me how much harder I needed to push off the ground–a critical lesson for my body and mind.

    This also showed me that if I let go of actions and ideas that were not serving me, I could be successful. If you’re trying anything and not making progress, try a lot of other approaches. Any one thing can mean the difference.

  7. Get as vertical as possible before kicking up:
  8. I thought, for the longest time, that you could launch up into a handstand straight from downward facing dog. One teacher taught me that if I could get my hands and heart mostly vertical before kicking up, that I would be much closer to the goal. The freedom and lift I got immediately from that was petrifying, but freeing. I had never gotten so close as when I placed my arms and chest as upright as possible. It took a little getting used to for this to be comfortable, but once it was, it was a huge breakthrough in my handstand evolution.

    Keep your hands 4-6 inches from the wall and get on top of them. Hold it there for a while just to feel what that’s like before kicking up.

  9. Kick up with your hips squared:
  10. I was a ballet dancer in my youth and am naturally very flexible. So, when it came to lifting my leg behind me to go up to vertical, I thought a split was the best way to get up. In doing that, I was getting my leg very high and close to the wall, but I was also turning my feet out and rotating my hips–causing me to be off-balance.

    Rather, energize your legs in a down-dog position and feel that your hips and legs are parallel to each other. Then bend one knee in a preparation for launch. Kick up powerfully with your heel leading straight back. This will enable you to keep your hips squared and, as a bonus, it will naturally signal your other leg to come up too.

  11. When you’re done, let go:
  12. After you’ve given it your best shot 3-5 times, stop and rest in child’s pose. You will wear yourself out and get frustrated if you keep going, which can hurt your progress. Be okay with the idea that it’s going to take some time, and celebrate your effort. Your commitment to practice is the best progress you can make!

    Did you face any struggles in getting up into a handstand? What tips do you have for overcoming them?

2 Responses to “You CAN Do a Handstand! Here’s How…”

  1. admin says:

    If I can do it, you can!! For me, this year’s goal is a forearm balance. Always learning 🙂

  2. mbh says:

    So good to find you through your article about Embers on FB. You got my number on fear and hand stands, this is my 2011 goal.

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