The handstand is an awesome pose at the intersection of yoga and gymnastics; they have numerous benefits including:
Improving upper-body strength;
Improve core strength which helps protect back from injury;
Improving balance and co-ordination;
Energise your mind with increased blood flow helping to calm the mind;
Create mindfulness: the focused concentration required to do handstands can be a great way to clear the mind promoting relaxation.
In this article, we will talk you through the fundamentals of the pose and exercises you can do to develop the strength and balance to get standing and walking upside-down in no time!
Handstands are an advanced pose so we don’t recommend trying this if you have any injuries or medical conditions and be sure to do all the 'pre-flight checks' below before you start.
The correct body position
First of all, let’s look at the target position so it’s clear what we’re aiming for:
The body should be straight with your hands, shoulders, hips and ankles stacked on top of each other with a straight spine.
Perhaps the most important point is that the core should be engaged at all times. from the moment you bend down to get into position to the moment you stand back up after the pose. This is good practice during all exercise and helps protect against back injury.
It's common at first to find you may arch your back and bring your feet further forward than your hips - this is a natural reaction of the body trying to balance. To counteract this, really engage the core and experiment with tilting your hips: filming yourself can help check your pose.
Before attempting the pose there are a few exercises which are important to prepare the body and help protect from injury:
Warm-up - always a good idea before any exercise. Handstands are strenuous so don’t risk muscle strains by not warming them up!
Stretch - again always a good idea before and after any workout: we recommend dynamic stretching before your handstands, and static stretches afterwards. Be sure to really loosen up your fingers, hands and wrist as these will take a lot of load during your practice;
Don't overdo it! - Be sure to take regular breaks and don't practice for too long at first as you need to let your body recover. Over-practice increases the chance of injury.
Work on core, back and shoulder strength - handstands really work these muscles so it’s a good idea to do weights or bodyweight exercises in the run up to starting your handstand work. It’s also a good idea to do planks beforehand to fire up the core and help you engage it more easily;
Find an open space for the handstand practice - we recommend placing a yoga mat by a wall with a large fall space around you at first, then moving away from the wall (to an open space) as you progress. Make sure no objects, animals or children within a 3-4m radius from your starting point!
Understand how to safely come out of the pose: If you feel you lose balance at any point try to tuck your feet below you or bring you feet to one side like a cartwheel. If you feel your feet come over your head: tuck you knees in towards your chest, curve your back and roll into a roly poly - be careful not to land on your neck.
There are a number of exercises to start with to develop the muscles and balance needed for handstands.
Plank to walk up wall
Start in the plank position with feet by the wall;
Place one foot up the wall;
Engage the core and lift the other leg;
Walk the hands back towards the wall.
By spending time in this position you can build the arm, shoulder and back strength required without needing to concentrate on your balance.
When you are ready, push off from the wall while engaging your core to enter the handstand position. Try to return back to the wall and walk down, rather than your legs coming over your head, away from the wall.
Once you are more comfortable with the pose from the plank exercise above and are able to hold it for at least a few seconds, try to enter the pose via a kickup.
Place your hands side-by-side in the centre of the mat;
Push off the floor with one leg then the other;
Engage the core and try to hold the handstand pose.
Start with small kicks at first as you get used to this exercise, moving to larger and larger kicks bringing your body more upright each time.
Tips to help nail that handstand.
There are a few points to check and be aware of while doing your handstand:
Hand and arm placement:
Fingers should point forwards away from your body;
Place hands shoulder width apart;
Trying shifting your weight between the ball of hand and the fingers to find sweet spot of balance (be careful not to put too much weight through the fingers).
The crook of the elbows should be facing inwards;
Straighten, but don’t hyper-extend.
Relaxed, do not strain;
Look upwards (away from your body) at the floor. It can help to focus on a point on your mat like an intersection of the Form Grid.
Spine & core
Spine should be straight and stacked;
Engage your core at all times and tense all your muscles during the pose.
Nice deep breathes throughout!
Variations to try once you have mastered the basic handstand
So you've mastered the handstand and now want to mix it up and try a few variations:
Tuck - slowly bend your legs tucking them in front of you;
Pushup - bend your arms, lowering your body towards the floor before pushing away returning to the standard handstand;
Split - move your feet apart while maintaining the straightness in your legs;
Spread - keeping your legs straight move one forward and one backwards towards a forward split position;
One arm - a very advanced pose, shift your weight towards one side, lowering the leg on that side slowly. Once stable, soften the arm not taking the weight, lifting it away from the floor and to one side.
Handstands are a great pose to do on your own or to try with friends. Having a spotter to hold your feet can be a great way to develop the balance required.
Let us know how you get on!