In the world of online yoga, you are hard pressed to find yogis who are not sharing amazing images of their inversions – performed with what appears to be incredible ease. Handstands in particular are a huge challenge and I find myself on an almost daily basis watching others in awe as they kick up or press into graceful and strong handstands – call me a handstand obsessive – maybe I am! A couple of my favourite Instagram accounts for inversion inspiration are: The Southern Yogi, Cat Meffan, Jess Olie, Shona Vertue – they are all extraordinary, and will inspire you to do much more than just go upside down!
I’m on my way to ‘finding my handstand’ and wanted to share things that are helping me along the journey, some inspired by my favourite yogis and some that I’ve learned from experience.
1. BE BRAVE
Half the battle for some is just getting the courage to attempt a handstand! I mean, going upside down isn’t exactly part of most people’s daily routine, and if it wasn’t something you did as a crazy child then it can take a lot to get there mentally. But as long as you have the strength and your yoga technique is solid, there’s nothing to fear. So why not ask your yoga teacher if they’ll help you out for the first couple of tries? I’m sure they would be happy and excited for you to progress! So take a deep breath, accept the challenge, and take the leap – odds are that you will love it and will find it exhilarating! The failed attempts are half of the fun!
2. YOUR WRISTS ARE YOUR FRIENDS – LOOK AFTER THEM
This one I’m totally serious about, for months I neglected my wrists, just kicking up anytime I saw a wall with enough space, no matter the time of day or how warm my body was! Until a couple of weeks ago I suddenly noticed my wrists becoming sorer and sorer, even when I wasn’t practising – I knew it was time to give them a break! Warm those puppies up, roll them around in circles, strengthen them (that could be a whole separate post) and stand on your hands (palm up) in Uttanasana once you’re finished to give your wrists a stretch in the opposite direction.
3. PATIENCE IS ALSO YOUR FRIEND – YOU DON’T NEED TO PRACTICE EVERYDAY
I’m serious! It’s so tempting to practice handstands everyday because, let’s face it, they’re FUN! But there really is a thing as too much practice. I’ve been finding that often on the weeks when I don’t directly work on my handstands everyday, instead opting to work on my strength and general yoga practice, I will surprise myself and suddenly be able to hold the pose with more strength and ease. It takes some yogis years and years to find their balance and confidence in handstands, so be patient – it’s a journey!
4. GET STRONG – NOT JUST YOUR ARMS, YOUR ENTIRE BODY
We all know that handstands take a lot of upper body strength. But this isn’t the only focus, your whole body needs to be engaged and strong, from the very bottom of the posture, all the way to the top of your toes. So continue to Chaturanga your way to handstand, but don’t neglect your core muscles, your butt and your legs! Cross training by integrating weights into your general fitness routine REALLY helps. If you’re not a gym bunny (even if you are!), I recommend The Vertue Method.
5. USE YOUR FOCUS
It’s surprising to think that so many people shut their eyes when they first start inverting! Half the fun is the thrill of the new perspective that inversions provide, and trust me when I say that if you keep your eyes open, you will find it a whole lot easier! I find that if I aim my gaze between the top of my thumbs I have so much more balance through the rest of my form. Play around with this and see where works best for you!
6. SAY HELLO TO THE WALL (AND THE GRASS…)
When you start training handstands the wall is your best friend and safe space. There are so many ways you can use the wall, whether it’s just kicking up against the wall and getting used to the sensation of being upside down, or a more complex exercise to give you strength (I might put together a post with some of these – let me know if you’d be interested!) When you’re ready to start saying goodbye to the wall, I also recommend practising on the grass outside, for me it’s the best place to feel safe when I inevitably fall over because the grass will cushion the blow!
7. ALIGNMENT IS EVERYTHING
Alignment makes the yoga go round. If you try and go into handstand with your hands really far apart, and your shoulders out of wack, you are just making a tricky job even harder for yourself. Play around with this, I recommend you try keeping your hands shoulder distance apart or slightly closer together. If you’re pressing or going into your handstand from downward facing dog then aligning your shoulders directly over your wrists before moving into the inversion will give you a much stronger chance of holding the pose. There are endless alignment points for handstands but I learned from my training with YogaWorks that starting from the bottom of the pose is always best!
So these are my top seven tips for working towards handstands! Hopefully as I get stronger I will be able to follow this post up with even more tips and advice. Working with inversions truly is a journey and everyone moves at different paces, so try not to get disheartened as you work on them! They take time and the achievement will feel even greater if you’ve really worked for it!