HANDSTANDS – WHY AND HOW TO LEARN?

Practicing handstands has been the most intriguing challenge I’ve decided to take on this year. I was never a big fan of head- or handstands. To be honest, I was terrified of them. It didn’t feel natural: I felt like I had no control over my body upside down. Doing yoga slowly led me towards overcoming my fears and wanting to master the art of handstands. After months, it’s still under progress but I sure have improved!

Although I can’t hold a freestanding handstand for a long time, I’ve had to go through all the steps from the very beginning to get to the point where I’m at. If you’ve ever wondered WHY you should practice handstands and HOW to get started, read ahead!

WHY PRACTICE? THE MANY BENEFITS OF HANDSTANDS

Handstands are extremely underrated for one simple reason: the majority of people think they can’t do it! Knowing how you can benefit from doing handstands (apart from the fact that they look cool), is one way to motivate yourself to start learning. Here are a few facts you should know:

  • Handstands build upper body strength, including the pectoralis major, anterior and posterior deltoids, latissimus dorsi and trapezius.
  • They increase balance and require you to develop a full control over the muscles.
  • Handstands stimulate the endocrine system and improve circulation.
  • They are an effective, yet a fun way to build core strength.

WHAT TO CONSIDER WHEN PRACTICING HANDSTANDS?

  • Prep your wrists: Warm them up before practice.
  • Engage your core: long tailbone, straight back (not arched).
  • Squeeze your butt and keep your legs together.
  • Keep arms shoulder width apart: do not spread them too wide.
  • Correct hand posture: spread fingers, lift knuckles, squeeze fingertips down and firmly press carpals down.
  • Don’t get stuck to a wall: learn to fall safely on soft surface and you can begin to practice without support.
  • Practice often but don’t rush it! It will take time for your brain and nervous system to adopt the new movement.

BEST TIPS FOR LEARNING THE BASICS: MY OWN EXPERIENCE

#1. Test your shoulder mobility. In order to do a correctly aligned handstand, it’s crucial you have good shoulder mobility.

  • Bring your arms straight in front of you: fingers pointing to the wall you’re facing, thumbs up.
  • Keeping your arms straight, start lifting them towards the ceiling.
  • If you’re able to bring your arms straight to your ears’ level, you’re good to go.
  • If you’re unable to bring your arms to your ears’ level, you should consider doing shoulder mobility exercises before practicing handstands.
  • Picture 1: Mobility needs improvement.
  • Picture 2: Good mobility.

#2. Strengthen your wrists with a frog stand. Hold the position for at least 5 breaths. Once you feel your wrists are getting used to supporting your body weight, you can hold the position up until 10 breaths.

  • Place your palms on the ground.
  • Lean forward a little and bend your elbows.
  • Place your knees on your arms, as high as possible (the closer to your shoulder, the better).
  • Gradually, begin lifting your feet off the ground, while letting your weight shift on your hands.

#3. Get used to the feeling of being upside down. Learn a tripod headstand and get comfortable with it before moving on. You can first practice against a wall or ask a friend to hold their hands on both sides of your hips, while you lift your legs up.

  • Lay the crown of the head on the floor. Place hands shoulder width apart, spread the fingers and press the whole palm on the ground. Engage the core and walk your feet towards your body until your back is straight.
  • Lift your legs and place your knees to rest on your triceps.
  • Slowly begin to lift your legs upwards, maintaining control. Keep the core tight and legs squeezed together, close to your body.
  • Finally, if you feel stable in the previous position, gradually straighten your legs towards the ceiling. Keep your core, legs and buttocks engaged.

#4. Help your body understand what a handstand is all about. Try this exercise:

  • Sit with your back against a wall and bend forward until your hands are at your ankles’ level.
  • Keep your hands where they are (shoulder width apart) and walk your feet up to the wall until your body is in a 90-degree angle.
  • Now, lift only your other leg up towards the ceiling. Use the previous tips to find the correct alignment. Gaze to the wall.
  • Inhale while keeping the sole of your foot pressed against the wall. Exhale and use the foot to slowly push you away from the wall until only the tips of your toes are touching the wall. Inhale and let the sole press back to the wall. Repeat as many times as you want.

#5. Learn how to balance out in the open in a forearm stand. First, start practicing against a wall. This exercise is a little easier than a handstand but will help you in finding the center of balance.

  • Lay your forearms on the floor: parallel and shoulder width apart.
  • In the starting position, have your feet on the floor and start walking them towards your body.
  • Let your head hover over your forearms during the entire pose and keep your body tight the whole time!
  • Having a wall behind you will help you get into the position. First, kick your legs up with control until you tap your toes to the wall. One leg leads, the other one follows.
  • Straighten one leg towards the sky, find balance and straighten the other one as well.
  • In this pose, it’s okay to have your back arched a little.

#6. Proceed to a wall handstand. Place your palms on the floor and kick one leg after another up to the wall.

  • Engage your entire body: core, legs, butt
  • Keep your elbows straight and press your fingers firmly to the floor
  • Protract your shoulders: push shoulder blades actively away from the spine and each other
  • Gaze straight to the wall in front of you
  • Focus on your alignment and stay in the position up to 1 minute to get used to the feeling and to strengthen your body.
  • Try it both ways around: the latter one is more difficult and before getting to it, you should learn how to get off the position by moving the other hand to enter a cartwheel.

Before moving on to more advanced methods, it’s important that you build a solid base. Now, you’re probably thinking: “Why can’t I just go straight to kicking my legs up to a handstand and learn it that way?”

The answer is that first you need to teach your brain what exactly you’re kicking up to! Freestanding handstands are not something you can learn overnight – it’s a process.

And trust me, the exercises above are a solid method to begin your journey towards a free-standing handstand. So go ahead and give these exercises a try. At a later stage, I will make another post and introduce you to the next steps you should take to learn a free-standing handstand. Stay tuned! 🙂

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