I’ve been working to hold a handstand seriously for about three years now.
Although I had done yoga for a few years beforehand, handstand was not a part of my practice. I thought it was too “advanced” and it was not a pose that rewarded my flexible body type.
I decided to work on handstand - not because doing a handstand is important - but because I knew it would greatly improve my body strength and control as well as take me outside my comfort zone.
My first (hundred) attempts were kicking up against a wall in my Georgetown apartment and not catching any hang time. I wasn’t “good”, but it was important that I started where I was and got used to being upside down on my hands.
When I finally dared myself to move away from the wall, I fell a lot. But I kept trying: different entrances and strength exercises; I also began practicing poses that were hard for me. And very slowly, I was able to hold myself comfortably upside down.
My handstand is not perfect, but I have been able to feel my body learning and improving ever since I started. I still fall, but I have never injured myself. Getting better at handstand is not only a matter of body training, but mind training. The mind can really freak out at the idea and slightest possibility of falling and tends to catastrophes what could happen. I remember seeing a Charlie Chaplin video where he is blindfolded and walking perfectly straight on a thin board jutting off a building. As soon as he takes off the blindfold and sees where he is, he wobbles like mad. Handstand can be dangerous, but so can every other pose and exercise. The reality is rarely ever as dire as the mind makes it seem, and there is no necessity to move from your support (like the wall) if falling is a major concern.
I am currently working on my press handstand just for fun and to challenge my body further. Below are a few of the movements I have found especially helpful to my handstand journey and that I do almost every time I practice:
1. Planks – If you want to handstand, you have to spend some more time on your hands. Plank feeds multiple birds with one seed – you strengthen your wrists as well as your core and shoulders.
TIPS: Don’t let your low back sag and work to hold for up to a minute.
2. Plank + Knee to Nose – This is great for training your core while moving. From plank bring one knee into your nose as you round the back. Repeat other side.
TIPS: Move slowly to get the most strength out of your reps. Bring each knee in 5 times and do that as part of your regular routine.
3. Boat to Canoe – This exercise has been key for me in terms of mastering handstand. I start in boat (the V shape on the left) holding for 5 breaths and then lower into canoe, holding for another 5 breaths…then I pull myself back up again and repeat!
TIPS: I remember thinking the canoe (also called the “hollow body” pose) was impossible at first. My core burned and fatigued so quickly. But I stuck with it. Today, I can go back and forth 5 times with relative ease. Again, this exercise in my opinion is KEY. It will feel impossible and hard. That’s a good thing, it means you have strength yet to build. Keep at it and do what you can. In the canoe, keep your back flat against the floor! If you want more challenge in the canoe pose (eventually), then extend the arms overhead while keeping the low back flat.
4. Belly backbend – We have to remember that in inverted poses like handstand, we need both sides of the body to be strong and balanced. We can’t just strengthen the front of the core and expect to have control. You can consider your back part of your “core” in that it helps stabilize you from behind. Lie on your belly and lift your head, chest, and shoulders off the floor.
TIPS: Keep the arms back if your neck and shoulders are tight. Lift the legs if you want to work the legs too. Hold up to 7 breaths.
Remember, it doesn’t happen overnight. I have been at this most days for about three years. I may not be able to hold a handstand perfectly all the time, but I am very strong now.
What was once hard is now easy. Just have fun and let go of perfection.
Some days you will feel like you are getting worse and suddenly you will be rocking it.
Such is life. Just know your consistency will pay off!
Happy handstanding ☺