So you want to do a handstand — the Mount Everest for the asana practicing yogi.
Although my life did not change when I finally got my handstand, it was inspiring and exciting to work towards a goal in my practice. Here are five tips that can help get you standing on your hands!
Predictable, I know. But seriously, maintaining your deep (Ujjayi) breath is critical to a solid handstand practice. Make it your focus to get through a whole class just paying attention to the breath — a steady inhale and exhale through the nose against the back of the throat. Try to find someone in class who is a good breather (yes, they exist) and practice next to them. This might mean giving up your designated spot. It's worth it. Even if you don't make it as deeply into the poses as you might normally, focus on the breath and learn to ride it. It will take you where you want to go.
2. Be kind to yourself.
Kicking up repeatedly and spastically without stopping is not going to work. You might hold handstand for a second, but then it's over. Work on moving slowly. I call it "considered movement." A good place to start is a standing split: get really long through your hamstrings and extend all the way through your tiptoes. Glue your hands on the floor and work on shifting your weight forward over your shoulders and wrists and then coming onto the tiptoes of your standing foot, and then slowly lifting your hips over your shoulders. Even if you don't come up into a handstand from there, that rocking forward and lifting is critical. Once you can get upside down, work on coming down softly and slowly, trying not to make a sound when you land.
3. Open up your back body.
The hamstrings are the gateway to the handstand. If your hamstrings are long enough, you can get your tush over your shoulders from a standing split. Try a few fancy Sanskrit poses (like ardha hanumanasana) to help stretch your hamstrings, or try a half split, with blocks if necessary, or a standing split against the wall. The longer your back body is, the less you'll have to kick to lift your hips over your shoulders.
I can't stress this enough. Over years of giving handstand workshops, I hear every time, "I can't get off the wall." You can! You learned to walk, right? You are 100 percent capable of getting off the wall. You are limitless. If you breathe and move slowly, it will come. Try lifting (versus kicking) up into a handstand two feet from the wall, and tap your toes on the wall a few times. Then try three feet from the wall. Wean yourself off, all the while breathing and using considered movement. Center yourself by bringing your palms together in the middle of your chest (anjali mudra) before you attempt a handstand lift. Trust the process.
5. Have fun!
Love yourself in the process! This is play, one of the main components of a full and glorious life. Enjoy it. Celebrate the little things. You held it for three seconds today instead of one second. Score! You're on a journey in your practice which will also play out in your life. Where else will you move more considerately? Where else will you take it slowly and not let your ego get the best of you? Where else will you try something crazy and love your totally awesome self through the process?
Now get out there and get upside down — happy handstanding!