Do you remember playing when you were a kid, and doing things like cartwheels, somersaults, and handstands? It seems as though I wasn’t nearly as concerned about falling over backward then! Doing handstands is a fun way to bring back the playfulness we had as children and there are ways to work towards this energizing pose as adults, so that we don’t cause injury.
Handstands require our upper body to be strong and flexible. Our arms and shoulders will be bearing our body weight, and the arms also need to rotate externally enough to bring our shoulderblades into our back and towards the waist. We can practice this in poses such as plank and downward facing dog (Adho Mukha Savasana). It is important to develop arm and wrist strength, as well as shoulder flexibility in these poses before going into handstand.
If you notice that your arms want to bend at the elbow, or that your hands want to rotate in towards each other, you have tightness in shoulder muscles. With your arms extended out in front of you in line with your shoulders, place a strap snugly above the elbows on the upper arms. When you place your hands down on the floor and begin to bear weight, you then will try to move your elbows lightly in towards each other rather than pushing into the strap. In any variations of handstand, the arms work in the same way: hands shoulder width apart, spread your fingers and if your shoulders are tight rotate your hands slightly outward. Ground down into the base of your fingers, especially the first finger and thumb. Then draw up from the first finger and thumb into the inner armpit. Move your elbow creases towards the same direction your fingers are pointing – if this is tough, again rotate your fingers outwards a little more. Work with this in the preparatory poses first.
Once your arms are able to be flexible and strong, use a chair to start to work on this pose. This intermediate version of handstand as well as putting your legs on the wall in an inverted staff pose, are great variations if it takes you a while to build more strength and flexibility. Lastly, you will be ready to kick up into full handstand. Once you are comfortable doing this at a wall, venture into working on balancing away from the wall. The benefits of this pose are a feeling of increased energy, strengthening in your wrists, arms, and shoulders, and good work with your balance. As always, finding a teacher you are comfortable working with can help you find your best path towards this energizing and fun pose!