As a former gymnastics coach, I love handstands. Not only are they a fun physical challenge, as an inversion movement, handstands also provide awesome health benefits. For anyone who doesn’t have an athletic history involving gymnastics or advanced yoga, however, handstands can be difficult to master and risky to perform. With some patience and the use of the handstand progression guide below, you can safely build up to a beautiful, strong handstand and reap the benefits of inversion exercise, too!
What is an Inversion?
Any pose that puts your head below your heart is defined as an inversion. Even moves as simple as Downward Dog or Forward Fold are considered inversion poses. Inverting your body helps readjust blood flow and posture by counteracting the natural stress that gravity puts on the body. This can improve fluid drainage, circulation, and even clear up congestion within your body.
Improved circulation and fluid flow can encourage healthier organ tissue, particularly in the lungs and heart, boost your immune system, lower blood pressure, and even improve your mood! So where do you start? Follow these steps to start practicing inversion with a handstand pose:
How to Handstand
Before you start, make sure you have enough upper body strength built up to perform a handstand. You can judge this by holding Downward Dog pose for at least three minutes. If you can’t hold Down Dog for that long, work on building up your strength with arm, chest, abdominal and back exercises.
In order to prepare and practice handstands safely, you will need a flat, blank wall surface, a furniture-free section of floor, and room space that is twice your arm-span wide. As you get closer to reaching full handstand, if may help to practice at a local gym where you are able to use foam floor mats to prevent injury.
Once you have your space prepared, train your mind-body connection by moving through these steps. Start with a standing L shape: Stand leg’s distance from the wall, feet hip-width apart. Lift your leg up to hip height and place your foot flat upon the wall, toes facing upward and leg aligned with your hip bone. Adjust your distance from the wall so that your legs are at a 90-degree angle. Raise your arms to your ears, shoulder-width apart, and flex your hands so that your palms are facing upward towards the ceiling. Hold this for five seconds, then change legs and repeat.
Start with you back facing the wall. Place your hands leg-width from the wall (where you stood for standing L shape), creating a shortened version of Downward Dog. One leg at a time, place your feet at hip height on the wall, feet flat and toes pointed downward, to create an inverted L shape. If needed, you can walk your feet up the wall to hip height.
Making sure your palms are shoulder-width apart with your weight evenly distributed, roll your shoulders toward your ears so that your head, neck, shoulders and chest are aligned. Hold this for ten seconds.
Holding within your inverted L pose, lift one leg toward the ceiling, holding your abs firm and pulling upward with your inner thigh to keep your hips and pelvis in line. Hold your leg in place when you reach a point where you feel that your body is vertically aligned from hand to foot. Point your toes by stretching through the ball of your foot to create better balance. Take note of the alignment that you feel in this pose. Return to inverted L, and repeat with your other leg.
Return to Downward Dog and adjust your hands so that they are a palm’s length further from the wall. Come into inverted L pose, then lift one leg to half-handstand. Press into the ball of the foot still on the wall, shifting your balance to the big-toe of that foot so that your heel and the bottom of your foot lifts freely away from the wall. Hold for five seconds, then lower your leg and repeat on the other side.
Practice proper three-legged Downward Dog: Come into Down Dog and lift one foot as high as your hip, pulling through your inner thigh and keeping your heel towards the ceiling. Do not twist your hip outward; keep your hips aligned by squeezing your thighs together and holding your abs firm. Hold for five seconds, then repeat on the other side.
Return to Down Dog and move into Plank pose. Holding your abs firm, lift your foot 3-4 inches from the ground so that your foot through torso are perfectly aligned. Point your toes, pressing through the balls of your foot. Continue to pull through your inner thigh to maintain hip alignment.
Pushing through your shoulders, press up into three-legged Downward Dog, keeping your torso, leg, and foot in line and your hips straight. Hold for five seconds, return to Downward Dog and repeat on the other side. [336_mobile_bottom]
Starting in Down Dog, shorten up your stance so that your body is folded in a sharp triangle, or about one third your normal Downward Dog stance. Shift your shoulders about a pinky’s length past your wrists and lift your favored leg up to hip height, keeping it in a straight line with your back, and pulling inward with your thighs to keep your hips straight. Point your toes, pushing through the ball of your foot.
Bend your grounded leg and push off the floor through the ball of your foot. Think of this leg as a spring, pushing your hips and legs towards aligning above your shoulders. Keep your abs tight and this leg bent, with your knee staying close to your stomach. This will allow you to catch yourself easily and without injury as you land. Keep your upper leg stationary—don’t kick with it, only allow it to move as an extension of your torso. This will keep you from toppling over and losing your balance. Practice kicking off in this motion at least five times, more if you have the energy.
As you continue to practice this progression over time, you will find that you are able to hold yourself in the air longer as you push off towards your handstand. As this happens, you can slowly start to straighten your bent leg, pointing your toes and pushing through the balls of your feet towards the ceiling. Remember to take your time with this; your bent leg works to keep you in balance while your body is not perfectly aligned; don’t rush into a full handstand. If you do, you risk toppling over and injuring yourself.
As you press your feet up towards the ceiling, push through your arms into the palms and fingertips of your hands, evenly distributing your weight. Squeeze your ears between your arms and hold your abs tight. Ta-da! You are now doing a handstand.