Handstand (Adho Mukha Vrksasana) is one of the most sought after and yet, elusive poses in yoga these days. With over a decade of gymnastics experience, I can attest that kicking up to a wall will not lead you to Handstand. Most students get stuck at the wall for years practicing the wrong alignment. And then, once they begin to transition to the middle of the room there's a legitimate fear of toppling over.
I teach students to build strength and positioning at the wall in an L-shaped half-handstand instead. But when it comes to getting up to a full Handstand, I encourage my students to practice in the middle of the room. The trick is practicing what I like to call a "bounce up," instead of "kick up."
Kicking up takes the raised leg past neutral alignment, which can cause you to to tip over or fall into a backbend. By using minimal bounce off the ball of the foot, you'll get just enough momentum to bring your shoulders to the correct positioning.
If you have the the full pose pre-aligned before you begin bouncing up, the shoulders are really the only thing that will change. Think of it as the same transition from Plank Pose back to Downward Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana), but with more bodyweight on your hands. It's really just a matter of stacking shoulders over wrists, then the hips and feet will follow.
How To Get There
Begin in Downward Dog and shift forward to stack your shoulders over your fingertips, rather than wrists. Step one foot in about a foot or so away from your hands, and bend the knee deeply so that your torso is touching your thigh. Lift the back leg up no higher than the hip point and try to keep it straight. Make sure the knee and toes of the raised leg point downward, and that your spine is aligned in a neutral position like in a plank or Mountain Pose (Tadasana).
The key is to maintain stability throughout each movement, and to only use the foot on the ground as a mini springboard. As you begin bouncing up and down, think about opening the shoulders from about a 110-degree angle to 180 degrees. (Again, think Plank to Downward Dog in your shoulders.) The bent leg that you're bouncing off of should stay bent, and will act as a counterweight to keep you from tipping over until one day you just stick the pose in mid-air.
Once you stick it and are balanced, then you can bring the bent leg up to come into a full Handstand with both legs straight.
Trust me that you do have to give up the wall completely to make this pose effective for you in the long run. But continued practice of this technique will lead you to nailing a true Handstand sooner than you think, I promise.
Photo Credit: Oliver Endahl