Even before I started having success with my handstand practice, I was getting questions from people wanting to learn (maybe I just look like someone who likes to be upside down?). Now that I’m finally catching some air time, I feel like I’m actually in a position to offer some advice!
That being said, I want to make it clear that I am by no means any kind of handstand expert. I can only hold for a breath (or less), and I still have a lot of work to do. In the seven months or so that I’ve been working up to this pose, my progress has come in the form of long periods of frustration punctuated by big breakthroughs when I learn something or try something new. While that may not make me qualified, I do want to pass on the hints and tips I’ve learned along the way that have been particularly helpful for me personally. So here we go, my ten handstand tips for beginners!
1. Don’t just fling yourself up to a wall over and over…
I think this is the biggest mistake people make. The wall can be a great tool, but if all you do is fling your feet up to it, you’ll never learn to balance on your own.
2. … but do it at least once.
Before I got serious about learning to handstand, I would go up to the wall and try a few half-hearted kick ups once a week or so. I was trying to control the kick as if the wall wasn’t there (per tip #1). I eventually recorded it and realized I was nooooowhere near getting my hips over my shoulders; I had no idea how much force I really needed to get off the ground. I was so frustrated with trying to get up, I finally said screw it and flung myself up there.
Actually getting upside down was a huge breakthrough mentally, and it gave me important information about just how hard I had to kick up, how much was too much, and how much wasn’t enough.
3. Build a solid foundation.
You can’t handstand without strong, stable, and open shoulders and a strong core. No matter how anxious you are to get upside down, you need to establish these elements first. If you don’t, you’re going to be frustrated, or worse, injured. This is a topic for a whole other post, but a great way to start is with planks, downward dog, dolphin pose, L handstand (feet on the wall facing the wall), and other inversions like headstand.
4. Learn how to fall.
Mental hurdles can be one of the biggest challenges in handstand, and the fear of falling definitely tops the list. The funny thing is, once you learn how to fall correctly, there is nothing scary about it. Learning how to fall also lets you get away from the wall, which is an excellent deterrent to flinging up there.
If you are more flexible, you can just fall over into wheel. If that seems like too much (it still is for me, although I’ve landed that way once and promptly collapsed), just cartwheel! Before I started practicing away from the wall, I just practiced cartwheels like I was a kid again, then I built up from there, kicking up a bit and then rotating out of it on purpose until I was comfortable. You can see an example at the end of this video:
5. Practice outside.
Falling isn’t so scary when the landing is soft! Do what it takes to conquer those mental barriers. For me, that meant getting outside.
6. Press into your fingers – white fingertips!
I thought this was so weird when I first heard it from beach yoga girl, but it made a huge difference for me. The idea is, you should be pressing into your fingertips so strongly that they turn white. I tried to demo it, ignore the man hands. 🙂
This little trick makes a huge difference in keeping your balance. You wouldn’t think your fingers were that strong, but they totally are!
7. Push the ground away.
There is a lot going on in handstand, so it’s easy to lose track of what the different parts of your body are doing. I find I catch the balance more easily when I actively push into the ground instead of just balancing on top of it.
8. Learn a bit about your “bhandhas” and how to engage them.
This is something I’m still really really working on. When you look at master handstanding yogis, they pull in so strongly in their core that it looks like they are sucking in for the sake of a photo, but they aren’t.
Engaging your core strongly is key to preventing the dreaded “banana back,” proper alignment, and finding your balance.
9. Keep your gaze steady between your hands.
Fixing your gaze, or drishti, will help you balance whether you are on your hands or on your feet. In handstand, keep your eyes fixed between your hands.
10. Be persistent and consistent.
I’ll be the first to tell you how incredibly frustrating it is when someone picks up yoga and a few weeks later is touching their feet to their head and holding complex handstand variations for minutes at a time. When the frustration hits, I remind myself that 1) I’m not being very yogic, and 2) everyone’s journey is different. The harder and longer you work, the more it will mean to you. It took me seven months of regular practice to hold a freestanding (no wall involved) handstand for even a second. You will get there, trust the process, and just keep practicing. Consistency is the key.
Questions: If you’re working on handstand, what’s the biggest challenge for you right? In any goal, do you agree that the mental barriers can be the biggest ones?