Sara is one of the two co-creators of Pitaya Yoga and has been teaching handstands in Berlin since 2017. In this and future blogposts she will share with you some tips and tricks for your handstand practice.
Let's see if writing about handstands is as much fun as doing or teaching them. The handstand practice has gained a lot of popularity in recent years and people from many different movement directions find themselves quite enchanted to the idea of being able to hold a handstand.
There are many gains from practicing handstands but here I'll just mention my personal top three:
I want to share a bit more about the second point:
We all have asymmetries in the body and the cool thing about handstands is: it will be very obvious where you're body is not symmetric, once you're upside down! Why? Because you won't be able to compensate so easily for your right side being much stronger than your left, or that the muscles in the front of your body are totally overpowering the muscles in the back.
If you want to stay in your handstand, you will have to find a balance.
In this picture you can see asymmetries in my body, for example the difference of my elbows and different hand placement, with one thumb lifting up.
I studied Movement Therapy with the very knowledgable Songül Cetinkaya in Kreuzberg, Berlin. We learned nearly all muscles and most importantly, how they should be working together. So even if you have strong and flexible muscle groups it doesn't necessarily mean, that they work together with another group that you need to find stability in handstands. Which is why you might see a Popeye kind of guy who isn't able to hold a handstand.
I have one overall conclusion for you: we totally have to focus on strengthening our deep core - the transverse abdominis muscle. Unfortunately we tend to focus on the six-pack muscle - rectus abdominis muscle - because it looks so good (which I personally don't agree with). If we gave the muscles personalities, the six-pack would be the big and a bit annoying attention seeker who nobody really invited to the party.
For your handstand, the transverse muscle IS KEY! I will, in future blogpost, share exercises with you to strengthen these muscles. If you are really curious and want to do something now you can find the Pilates exercise called "The Hundred" or any other Pre-pilates exercise. Very important: don't press your lower back into the ground!
Let's get into some exercises!
If you are just beginning with handstands I have a basic and very important exercise for you. The kick-up from the floor. Your body has to learn to keep the shoulders on top of the wrist because that's the first line in your handstand you need to find. If you can't find the shoulder-above-wrist line, you will not be able to make a handstand.
Step 1: Check the alignment of the shoulder over the wrist with the help of a friend, video or mirror
Step 2: Lift the top leg higher without losing the shoulder-over-wrist alignment and keeping the hip squared
Step 5: find your handstand line. The gaze is in between the hands without lifting the head too high up, keep it as neutral as possible and put some strength into the neck. Squeeze everything towards the midline as if you're zipping everything together.
Step 6: now dismantle the handstand. Move through the L-shape to come with one leg down to the ground. Reach with the top leg up as long as possible so to make the landing smooth.
I also made a video for you about the kick-up:
Leg variations for intermediate practitioners
If you don't hold a stable handstand yet by yourself you can also do this with a spotter. Give it a go and share your journey with us!
The open tuck: press the upper thighs and knees together, this will automatically activate your deep core. As you draw the knees towards the chest you push the chest forward (thus open) as if somebody was pulling your upper chest with a rope forwards and slightly up.
This belongs to the easier leg variations. Imagine you are making your handstand in a very narrow lane so your legs really can't open to the right or left, while you're doing the move. Pay attention that the back leg moves as much back, as the front leg to the front as we tent to work more in the front body.
Single stag: to get into this shape with control try to slide the bending leg along the straight leg down until the big toe is on the inner knee. Draw the knees in as if a magnet is pulling towards the midline. Even though one leg is bending, think your entire body really tall - in fact, as you bend one leg, you imagine your body getting longer
Double stag: this is a double stag without going into a backbend! So basically I'm not trying to touch the back leg to my head. Pay attention that you pull the knees towards the midline and that the front knee doesn't get too close to the chest - try to find a 90 degree angle. The back leg is really strong, not just falling to the back, which makes it easier to keep control.
That's it for today! I hope you enjoy the input, feel free to share it with your handstand-lover friends and comment or ask me anything that might come up in the comment box below.