Are you afraid to try a handstand (Adho Mukha Vrksasana)? That’s understandable. It requires you to place an enormous amount of trust in your arms, hands, and shoulders, which you normally place in your legs, feet, and hips. Oh yeah, there’s also that fear of falling.
Why do handstands? For one thing, it’s a great rush of endorphins and a physical feat! For another, it forces us to concentrate. I’m all about cheating to get straight to a state of deep concentration, also known as Dharana, the 6th limb of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. When I am fully concentrated on something, all my worries and needs seem to disappear. Have you ever been so focused on one thing that you forgot to eat or you didn’t even notice the sun went down and that no lights were on? I feel that way in handstand. I’m forced to change my perspective. I’m forced to pay attention to my body in a way that we can’t or don’t need to when we use our feet. If you ever watch a baby learn to walk, you’ll know what I mean. That baby is trying so hard! Every step requires all of her concentration.
Lastly, the handstand can be a great transition into many other asanas. It’s also a great alternative to headstand and shoulder stand if you have neck problems but want to try an advanced inversion.
This month in my classes at Refresh we are going to work on building the strength, mobility, and confidence you need to turn your world upside down. There are a lot of moving pieces, so don’t feel bad if it’s a long yoga journey for you. I have been working on my handstands for several years now. Sometimes I wish I had had a more deliberate method since it might not have taken so long! However, it’s been fun along the way, so I don’t regret it. I started by walking on my hands because moving is easier than being still. I fell a lot because I hadn’t done the foundational strength work. I was also launching myself from standing which is a way of cheating the abdominal and back strength needed when starting with hands on the floor.
We will incorporate planks and forearms planks to help develop strong wrists, rotator cuffs, and abdominal muscles. Your obliques and transverse muscles are needed to support the spine while inverted. The superficial back muscles (i.e. latissimus dorsi) must be flexible enough to prevent hyperextension in the lumbar spine. It’s nice to have strong biceps and triceps, but believe it or not that’s not the key to this pose! Once the bones are stacked, there is little work to be done in the arms. The key to be staying up is a strong back, strong abs, and stable shoulders and wrists. Breath work is really tricky as the natural tendency is to hold our breath because it minimizes movement in the spine.
As we move from jumping to a more controlled take-off, we will focus on flexibility and mobility in the hamstrings and hips.
Even if you don’t make it all the way up this month, when we are done you will at least have the tools and knowledge you need to continue working toward a partial or complete handstand. See you in class!!