I specialized in Neurodevelopmental Technique (NDT), so I work with patients who had suffered some neurological injury in the form of a stroke or brain injury. NDT therapy, a hands-on, holistic approach to treating people with neurological impairments, is based on the developmental stages of movement and uses the principle of ground-reaction force: weight-bearing down through a joint creates energy back up into the joint, causing the surrounding muscles to contract. Put simply, we got our patients crawling, working on all fours for core strengthening, kneeling, walking, and climbing EVEN if they were paralyzed in one or more limbs
At the same time, I was focused on trying to advance my yoga practice to be able to move into handstands. But even though I was able to briefly accomplish them, something was missing.
My epiphany came after treating one of my stroke patients. I helped him crawl, get into a Down Dog, then walk his feet forward, keeping as much weight on his paraplegic arm as possible. Under my hands, which were keeping his shoulder girdle aligned, I could feel his very weak muscles trembling with the effort. Even though these muscles were technically paralyzed, they were firing because of the weight bearing on the hand.
It dawned on me that I, too, could benefit from this practice. I went home, started crawling, Down Dogging on the wall, and walking in Down Dog. I began to focus on pressing down into the floor to lift, not kick, into my handstand. Shazam!
So what had been missing? MY HANDS! With this change in perspective, focus and attention to recruiting the correct muscles, I started staying for long periods in my handstands. At first, this way is much harder, because you're truly using muscle power — NOT momentum — to get off the ground. But with time, practice, and focus on the ground-reaction force principle, you too will find your handstand and be able to hold it.
1. Get on all fours and push down into your hands as you lift your belly up. Gently lift the knees off the ground and hover, challenging the arms and core. Lower the knees and repeat 5-10 times.
2. In Down Dog, walk your feet forward 6-12 inches, press into your hands, and keep your collarbones spread. Then walk your feet back. Repeat five times, keeping your hands fully pressed into the floor the whole time.
3. For Down Dog on the wall, first come into a Down Dog with your heels touching the wall. Walk your feet up, ideally at a 90-degree angle. With your neck relaxed and arms pressed straight, roll your biceps in and pull your front ribs and low belly toward your back. Hold 15 seconds, increasing the duration to progress. You'll likely shake, but this means you're truly building the strength that you need to hold a handstand off the wall.
4. In standing split, keep your top leg at a 90-degree angle, with your toes facing the floor. Cobra the spine forward, gazing out slightly. Press down into your hands, lift your belly up, and lightly press your bottom foot down to push off. Do not kick your top leg. Focus on pressing down into your hands to get off the ground.
Handstands are fun, and are great for the body and the brain. So go and play!