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6 Yoga Poses to Master Before Even Attempting Handstand

Leah Sugerman
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Nailing Handstand in your yoga practice is no easy feat. In fact, the amount of body awareness, mobility and control needed to properly practice Handstand (Adho Mukha Vrksasana) may make it one of the most challenging asanas in our practice. But the euphoria felt when you literally flip your perspective and float through the air is well worth the time, effort and dedication needed to learn this popular posture.
 
Because Handstand is made up of so many difficult and complex elements, it is not advisable to literally jump into it without properly prepping the body. Like other yoga poses, Handstand requires the practitioner to be in tune with their body to not only hold the pose, but to transition in and out of the pose safely as well. Honor your body by giving it the time and preparation needed to practice Handstand.
 

Balance + Strength + Endurance + Flexibility + Concentration = Handstand

 
When learning this powerful inversion, I highly advise building strength in your core, shoulders and wrists to be sure you stay safe and injury-free before attempting to flip your world upside down. Incorporating a few key yoga poses into your practice will help you gain the strength and awareness needed to nail your Handstand.
 

Here are 5 yoga poses to help you begin your handstand journey:

 

1. Standing Forward Fold (Uttanasana)

Not many people realize the necessity of hamstring flexibility when practicing Handstand. Open hamstrings make a huge difference when learning how to kick up into Handstand. That’s why spending time practicing the seemingly “basic” yoga pose of Standing Forward Fold can really transform your Handstand practice.
 
Standing-Forward-Fold-(Uttanasana)
 
Let’s try it:

  1. Begin standing with your feet about hip distance apart
  2. Soften your knees and hinge from the hips as you fold over your legs and maintain a long spine
  3. Feel free to bend your knees as deeply as needed
  4. Allow your head and torso to become heavy and hang toward the floor
  5. If your legs are straight, engage your quadriceps to allow a deeper stretch in your hamstrings
  6. Depending on your flexibility, feel free to let the fingers hang toward the floor, grab hands and elbows, or hug the calves
  7. Pause here for 20-30 seconds while you breathe deeply into the stretch

 
 

2. Boat Pose (Navasana)

Core strength is an essential component to maintaining balance when you’re upside down. Boat Pose is an excellent yoga pose to learn how to connect to the deep core muscles needed to not only hold your Handstand, but also to avoid “banana backing” that can injure your low back in Handstand.
 
Boat-Pose-(Paripurna-Navasana)
 
Let’s try it:

  1. Begin seated on your mat with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor
  2. Place your hands behind your knees and firmly press your sit bones into the mat. This action will help lift your chest and lengthen your spine toward the ceiling
  3. Soften your shoulders away from your ears
  4. To activate your core, bring your navel toward your spine
  5. As you inhale, slightly leaning back, lift your feet off the floor and bring your shins parallel to the mat
  6. Balance on your sit bones and activate your inner thighs (keep your legs hip distance apart)
  7. If it feels available to you, release your hands and extend your arms forward to the outside of your knees (without holding on)
  8. For more intensity, straighten your legs and continue to maintain a slow, steady breath and an elongated spine
  9. Hold your variation of Boat Pose for 10-15 breaths, and then slowly release your feet to the mat

Check out Abdominal Anatomy + Yoga Poses to Strengthen Your Full Core to learn more about strengthening your core.
 
 

3. Shoulder Integration

Shoulder integration and stability is another critical alignment element in Handstand. The shoulder joint is extremely mobile which is very useful for our everyday lives, but unfortunately makes it very unstable for our Handstand practice. That’s why learning to stabilize the shoulder joint properly is necessary when working toward Handstand.
 
Shoulder-Integration
 
Let’s try it:

  1. Find a comfortable seat and extend your arms forward so they are in line with your shoulders
  2. Flex your wrists and activate your hands (like you’re pushing against a wall with your hands)
  3. While keeping your arms active, draw the head of your humerus bones (upper arm bones) back into the shoulder sockets
  4. Without moving, energetically hug your arms into the midline to activate them (but keep your arms in line with your shoulders)
  5. Very subtly broaden your chest (imagine that your collarbones are smiling)
  6. Pause here and invite your body to develop muscle memory to help you remember this same shoulder integration when you are upside down
  7. Feel free to use a yoga block between your hands or practice this in Plank Pose to continue building body awareness
  8. Practice as often and as long as desired

 

 
 

4. Plank Pose

The foundation of your Handstand is of course, your hands. So, learning the key elements needed to maintain a strong foundation in the hands is crucial to practicing Handstand. Plank Pose is the perfect yoga pose to build this foundation because similar to Handstand, Plank Pose requires your hands to bear much of your body weight as you firmly press the floor away and resist gravity.
 
Plank-Pose-(Adho-Mukha-Dandasana)
 
Let’s try it:

  1. Begin in Table Top Pose
  2. Set the foundation in your hands by placing them shoulder-width apart, spread your fingers wide and grip the mat with your fingertips
  3. Press firmly into all four corners of your palms and do not let the mound beneath your index finger lift off the mat
  4. Imagine your hand is a suction cup and only allow the center of your palm to lift
  5. Press the floor away from you as you lift your knees and walk your feet back to make a straight line with your body like a plank of wood
  6. Stretch the heels back as if you’re pressing into a wall behind you
  7. Activate your hamstrings to lift your legs and activate your core to lift your hips
  8. Lengthen from head to toe and engage your whole body. Maintain your breath and practice proper shoulder integration
  9. Hold for 30 seconds and then slowly release back to Table Top Pose

 
To add intensity to your Plank Pose practice, try practicing with a wall.
 
Wall-Plank
 
Let’s try it:

  1. Practicing Plank Pose at the wall will allow you to experience the strength and integration needed to practice Handstand
  2. Begin in Table Top Pose just as above, but with the wall directly behind you
  3. When you extend your feet back, slowly walk them up the wall so they are in line with your shoulders
  4. Press your feet firmly into the wall and really recruit the strength of your core to hold the pose
  5. Pause here for 15-30 seconds as you practice your shoulder integration, build strength in your body and help prepare your wrists for Handstand

 
Check out 5 Yoga Poses for Strong and Healthy Wrists to safely prepare your wrists for Handstand.
 
 

5. L-Shape Handstand

If you enjoyed taking your Plank Pose to the wall, you may be ready to add even more intensity and bear more weight in your hands. A great way to continue to build strength, integration, conquer fear and experience Handstand is practicing L-Shape Handstand with a wall.
 
L-Shape-Handstand
 
Let’s try it:

  1. Begin seated with your legs extended and your feet flat on the wall, then place a yoga block next to your hips as a place holder
  2. Place your hands where your block is and flip over, keeping your feet on the wall
  3. Slowly walk your feet up the wall until your hips are in a 90 degree angle
  4. Your shoulders and hips should be stacked directly over your hands
  5. Press your feet firmly against the wall and notice the weight in your arms, shoulders and wrists (this is how your Handstand will feel)
  6. If you want to take it a step further, extend one leg toward the ceiling. Be sure you actively press the floor away with your hands, maintain core engagement and strong shoulder integration
  7. Keep breathing and stay for 15-30 seconds in either variation, then slowly walk your feet down the wall

 
Check out 5 Techniques to Get You Stronger in Your Handstand for more Handstand variations to practice with your Handstand journey.
 
 
Never underestimate the power of the basics in your yoga practice. Truly understanding and mastering the subtle movements within your body in more accessible postures will make more challenging poses much easier to comprehend and practice. Be patient, practice daily and enjoy the journey.
 

Ready to give Handstands a try? Check out the 6-class, Learning to Handstand video bundle:

Take a free class today!
 
Learning-to-Handstand-bundle
 

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Leah Sugerman

Leah is a yoga teacher, writer and passionate world traveler. She fell in love with the pure dichotomy of the yoga practice: the stark contrast between the strength and power compared to the grace and surrender. When not teaching, Leah can be found practicing handstands in the sand, finding magic and eloquence playing with words or traveling to far ends of the globe with her mat in hand.

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