Ah, the elusive handstand. I'm not going to lie, it only really started to become accessible to me within the last few months. Actually, ever since I started lifting weight more seriously back in October of 2015. I get a lot of questions about handstands so I thought I'd share my six tips to nailing it down in your practice.
1. Handstand holds
Handstand holds against a wall and excellent for a few things - 1) They're a good way to start to feel more comfortable upside down and on your hands. 2) They're ideal for building strength in the upper body. The key, though, is to be sure you're being active about it. What I mean by that is to be sure you're really pushing the ground away for very long armpits much like you do in downward facing dog. Don't just let your shoulder sink into it. Also, begin building good handstand form by spreading your fingers and gripping into the ground as if you're a rock climber. Look between your thumbs and imagine your shoulders are just past your wrists. Spread your toes and reach the balls of your feet to the sky as if you're one long line of energy. Breathe here for 3 to 5 breaths, or longer if you can.
2. Shoulder Taps
Shoulder taps are a ton of fun and build incredible strength through the hands, oddly enough. I remember when I first started doing them I would practice for twenty minutes at a time and the next day my hands would be so sore in the best way! Our hands are underused just like the little muscles in our feet, so we really need to focus on them and rely on them for handstands. If you're practicing against a wall, shift your weight so it is evenly distributed between your entire right hand and then lift your left hand and tap your left shoulder. Then, shift your weight to your left hand and reach up with your right hand to tap your shoulder. This takes a tremendous amount of strength and is a very weird sensation at first, but keep at it and you'll get there. When you're starting to feel confident, you can practice it off the wall as shown in the vid below. Pro tip: always dance a little jig when you surprise yourself with how awesome you are :) Practice this for as long as feels comfortable for you - five taps each side, ten, twenty, whatever.
3. Practice other inversions
I always felt like there was an obvious sequence to learning handstands. In inversions, supported headstand has the most ground covered with the entire forearms and the head on the ground. Tripod headstand has less, so it made sense in my head that I found tripod to be more challenging than supported. Then comes forearm stand, which, whew! When you take the head off the mat it's like a whole new ball game! All three of these really work to build strength and confidence so that you're prepared for handstand. My suggestion is that if you're practicing handstand but you're not solid in your headstands and forearm stands that you keep practicing those first to help develop the strength and confidence.
4. Insert handstands into your personal practice often
They don't have to be perfect, but get used to being upside down in your personal practice. What's the use of saving them for a rainy day, you know? You only get better at what you keep working at. You'll notice in my personal practice below, I throw in a handstand here or there and I don't breathe for very long because I'm not focused on the handstand. The handstand is not the goal. The goal is strength building, and the movement, the continual breath, and enjoying what I'm doing. Enjoy the learning process. And if you're not totally sure where to begin, the YBC Intermediate Video Bundle has a great video for arm balances that includes a tutorial on handstands.
5. Play with variations
I think the common misconception about something like handstand is that you're only really doing one if your legs are perfectly straight. This is not the case! If your hands are on the ground and your body is over your head, you're doing a handstand and it doesn't matter what your legs are doing. So I recommend playing around. Often times you may find that a variation of the full expression of the pose is much more accessible than the full expression. For me, for example, the variation below and scorpion pose (see two vids down) are far easier than the perfect straight line handstand. Be mindful that if you haven't developed flexibility through the chest and shoulders, I do not recommend either of these variations, as they are essentially backbends but on your hands. Be sure you're solid in your backbends before attempting either one of these.
6. Build core strength
When I say to build core strength, I do not mean build some mirror abs - the pretty little six packs you can see in the mirror. I mean to build deep, deep core strength underneath what you can see in the mirror. Here are a few ways I like to do that:
L-sit leg lift variation:
Press up with a stability ball, shown here at the beginning (this is crazy hard!)
Regular L-sit leg lifts
Overhead squats - I'd advise working with someone knowledgeable in weight lifting if you're new to this sort of thing, but I noticed a tremendous growth in core strength - particularly the intercostals - after incorporating more overhead squats.
Zombie press headstands
Headstand leg lifts (haha this video is soooo old, I feel like I look so different)
So my friends, those are the things that have helped me to the point where I'm at now. Can I do a textbook handstand at any given moment? No. I need to be warmed up and my upper body and core strength needs to be ON (oddly, my best handstands are done after a solid lifting session, who knew?!). My point is, what's the rush? Where's the schedule that says you have to be able to do a textbook handstand by this date?! Breathe, take your time, there's no point in rushing because once you get there you realized you haven't arrived because there are so many other places to go. Once you get to handstand then you can play with so many variations from splits to one handed ones. So just relax, keep practicing and remember to have some fun! xo