There is nothing to up-level your mental state like a handstand: put me in a stressful situation and you’ll find me in a quiet corner taking a quick handstand to really get my game on. Handstands make me feel invulnerable, Titanium strong and ready to succeed with a smile on my face.
Like so many things, once you can do handstands they seem easy; until you can do them they seem impossible! Nothing looks the same as it does when you’re upside down – in terms of bringing a fresh perspective to any situation try looking at it from within a handstand and see how you feel.
For many students handstands and other inversions are intimidating, making them that more appealing to master. With a conscious effort towards developing your inversion practice, using techniques within other aspects of your practice you can swiftly develop the strength, stamina and integrity to develop control in your inversions.
Why Art and Science?
The science of handstands is a simple concept: you require strength and stability to be able to maintain a handstand, with the range of motion in the shoulder complex to allow the full extension of the arm above the head (in an upright position). There is also the further issue of balance (for free standing handstands), but more importantly the correct alignment to find your balance and the core strength to be able to maintain integrity in the handstand. That’s a lot of things to consider, but it’s more than worth the effort.
The Art of handstands is a more complex idea: to be upside down is to rewire the nervous system, and many people feel intimidated by even simple inversions, despite knowing they have the strength to be able to maintain the position. The key is confidence in your own abilities: often this can involve ‘tricking’ yourself into being able to be upside down confidently. The mind is the final barrier to being free in your handstands, but once your head catches up you can move with confidence – and even grace.
As with any aspect of Yoga the key to constant improvement is practice.
When it comes to the strength to maintain handstands as a general rule those with natural upper body strength tend to find inversions easier than those that don’t use the upper body in a way that generates strength and a neural connection to control elsewhere in their lives. For instance those who run regularly develop strong legs and core, but have relatively little upper body strength compared to a climber or gym goer who regularly lifts heavy weights but may not be as flexible.
Given that any inversion is classified as the head being below the level of the heart most people move through inversions in every practice they do – Downward Dog is an inversion, as is Dolphin and even Bridge pose. These help to build integrity in your handstand, developing the resilience of the vascular system to withstand the changes in blood pressure across the body when you move upside down.
The action in any basic inversion where you bring the weight of the body down through the hands or forearms (Downward Dog and Dolphin respectively) helps to develop strength and stability within the shoulder, but proper engagement in the chest while using these poses in your practice can give you much faster development and lead to an easier journey into handstands.
For those of us that learned to handstand by cartwheeling into an upside down position we remember the freedom handstands can give us – if only for a moment. To develop beyond this we need to be able to be more controlled, positioning our base (the hands/arms) correctly in accordance with our individual needs, exploring variations to discover the best foundation for our inversions.
While exploring inversions we need to be able to recognise what works and what doesn’t – within even a small group you are still an individual with your own requirements to develop a better inversion practice. These generally fall into the following categories:
- Conscious placement and engagement of your base
- Activation of the shoulder girdle
- Psychological confidence to be able to Invert safely
- Awareness of core alignment and balance control
- Controlled breath
And when you yourself are upside down you might not be in the best position to recognise your issues, let alone correct them! A good teacher should be able to help you find the root of your issue and go on to coach you into recognising it within yourself before teaching you to correct it.
It might seem like a lot to master, but when you can come to a handstand easily, take a deep breath, find that perfect moment of balance and extend it until you want to come back down, you find a new appreciation of your body, your practice, and a taste for freedom!
Yoga Upside Down Workshop is to be held Saturday 10th March 2018 at Space Six, Commercial Union House
It is advised that you have some experience with inversions before attending this workshop (with the ability to hold downward dog on the wall for a minimum of 10 breaths): if you suffer from problems with the wrist, shoulder or elbow please reconsider applying for this workshop.
The focus of this workshop is building strength and confidence, mindful of your safety in your practice. We will begin with simple inversions and increasing shoulder mobility and stability to help give a strong foundation to your inversions. we’ll also be playing with different bases for inversions; the correct placement for handstand and forearm balance and how you as an individual can find the best way to practice safely for your hands, wrists and shoulders.
Book on to the workshop using the link below: if you have any questions please feel free to contact me.