The last 2 years I have dedicated a lot of my personal yoga practice towards learning to do handstands. Just the other day when I proudly was telling a friend in our Chiang Mai Yoga studio that I could do a free stand handstand for 31 seconds (thought that sounded more interesting than 30 seconds), he did not say anything, so I added and said ‘yes and I have been training for 2 years’. I probably should not have added that because he started to laugh and said: “you have been training for 2 years and you can do a handstand for just 30 seconds?”. I started laughing too because 30 seconds sounds like a very short time, but when you are on your hands 30 seconds it feels like eternity.
In this blog I want to share some insights and tips that can be very helpful for anybody who is thinking about to learn a handstand or is dedicated already, and also share some useful links
When I started my handstand practice I was not that young anymore (47 year). When I was looking at somebody doing a handstand there was this mix of envy but also of thinking ‘well there is a useless skill’. But I was mostly intrigued how yoga practioners just effortlessly were standing on their hands. I like physical challenges and I was also curious to see if it would be possible at my age to learn this skill. Now I am 49, my handstand is far from perfect, but so far it has been an amazing journey, my body has changed (more strong, more intune with my body), I am more focused, more self-confident. Most important I am living proof that even later in life you can learn skills that seem maybe impossible
I have changed from a handstand sceptic into a handstand addict. I am so enthusiastic about handstands that I started to give handstand workshops every Saturday at Blue Garden Yoga Chiang Mai; click here for more information. The tips I am sharing can really help you on your way to learn a handstand.
Tips for your handstand practice
- Be patience; In the Netherlands (where I am from) we say Rome was not build in day. The same it is with handstands. You will not learn a handstand in a day, a couple days or a couple weeks. To learn a yoga handstand can take a long time. For some students it might go slower for other students faster. To anybody I talked with, who learned handstands in their adult life, all said the same, be patient, be dedicated and persistent.
- Learn the principles behind a good handstand; handstand is so much more then jump up and try to stand on your hands. To learn a good solid handstand make sure you make you self familiar with the principles, like how to position your hands, creating wrist strength, wrist flexibility, the hollow body principle, core stability, how to have open shoulders, about pushing the ground away, shoulder protraction, body alignment. This principles will really help you on the long run. One of the programs that helped me understand these principles was Fly strong of Dylan Werner, unfortunately this is not free, here you can see a little example of this program
- Do preparation exercises. Learn how to do a handstand is not only trying to stand on your hands. You need to train your body with a variation of preparation exercises; to strengthen core, to strengthen your shoulders, create strength and flexibility in your wrist, planks, a lot of crows, tripod handstand, wall presses. Here you can see examples of preparation exercises, For a very thorough overview of prep exercises click here. I also used ideas from school of calisthenics, click here (paid e-book)
- Always warm up your wrist; at the beginning of every session spend a good couple minutes to stretch and to warm up your wrist. This will help to prevent any wrist injuries. Click here for a great video with many ideas how to warm up the wrist
- Make of find a program and set time out to practice; In my own practice I first followed a program called core strength evolution from Dylan Werner (click here for a preview). It is not focused so much on actual handstands, but a lot of exercises that really prepares for handstands. This helped to make my body much stronger. After a while I started to develop my own programs. As I have a full teaching schedule of Yoga and Thai Massage (10 hours daily) I used to do short intensive practices for half an hour daily. If you are serious to learn handstand, try to create half hour a day for 5 days a week.
- Listen to your body; Take the yoga attitude of mindfulness and awareness into your handstand practice. Handstand practice can be a very intense practice and you need to build up your practice. Maybe you are not able to train every day to actual do handstands. When you feel your wrist are sore don’t do any hand balances that day but focus on core strength. Make sure that you rest at least one day a week. If you start working with the principles of a good handstand it brings the mindfulness and the awareness of Yoga into your practice and you start to become aware of small changes (maybe to position of you hands or core integration) can make a tremendous difference.
- Progress is never a straight line; when you practice you will progress but never in a straight line. Sometimes it can feel you progressing fast, sometimes it feels like you are keep hanging and feel you are not progressing. A lot of time progress happens suddenly, like a break through. All the sudden your body start to understand what it means to tighten your core, how to able to balance with your hands. If you feel you are stuck for a long time try different exercises. When I felt I was stuck for a long , I bought parallettes and added it into my practice, here you can find some great workout.
- Do exercises to balance out opposite muscles; Handstand is a pushing action, pushing away from the ground, and most prep exercises focus on the same. This can create over time a unbalance in your body. Spend some time of your routine to balance out the opposite muscles by pulling up on a pull up bar or by hanging on a bar.
- You are never too old to start; when I started I was 47 and now I am almost 49 and I can do a handstand pretty well. I know people who started in their fifties even in their sixties. So don’t let you age hold your back.
- Do not compare yourself to Handstand masters: There are so many cool videos of amazing handstand masters around, some of them balancing on one arm or are able to do incredible things. If you are just starting your journey don’t compare yourself with these masters. A lot of time these practioners will have started on young age, sometimes where gymnast, cheerleaders, acrobats, and the amount of work they have put in is tremendous. Also do not forget everybody is blessed with different capabilities, body types etc. Basically we are all on our own journey….
- Enjoy your practice and the handstand journey; the last tip and the most important one. If you are only focused on the outcome (to be able to do a handstand) you will not find joy in your practice and likely get frustrated and give up earlier. A famous saying of Buddhist Master Chogyam Trungpa: “the path is the goal”. In my handstand practice at the beginning I was also too much focused on wanting to be able to do a handstand. But after a while I was able to feel the difference within my body and my mind. My body grew stronger robust, at the age of 48 I was doing things I was not able to do when I was half my age, my confidence started to grow, I was able to apply patience and persistence, my mind opened up to different approaches. When I saw these changes I was not worried about the outcome and now every day when I practice I am enjoying it full heartily.