As kids, my brother and I would settle in next to a wall and kick up into headstand, sometimes competing for who could stay up the longest. Neither of us had heard of yoga, it was just good fun. In later years, handstands rarely crossed my mind as something I should ask of my body until they were introduced in a yoga class. I instantly felt like a kid again—only I was much, much worse at it. Still, it was fun to be “playing” again and practicing handstand (Adho Mukha Vrksasana)—the playful feeling alone was worth it! But the more I tried it, the more I realized there were other benefits to this daunting—and exciting!—pose as well.
Generally speaking, inversions in general are great because they give all bodies’ systems a brief break from the normal pull of gravity. This increases the blood flow to the brain and the lungs, and reduces pressure on the diaphragm and the circulatory system. This temporary shift gives the immune and endocrine systems a boost, which can improve your immunity and literally help you feel better through reduced cortisol production (the stress hormone).
Handstands also require you to bear weight on your arms, building strength and bone mass. Getting a strong foundation established in handstand, even on the wall, requires balance and focus. Over time, as your strength increases and you gradually become steadier in the pose, this translates into improved balance in handstand and when you are right side up too!
Approaching handstand can be intimidating, but if approached gently and with patience, it can become a less impossible feat. For some, just approaching the pose at all can be a huge confidence builder. So why not try it? Personally, I’m not a fan of teachers that suggest starting from downward dog near a wall and then teach you to launch your legs toward the wall by hopping up one foot at a time. Not only can this endanger your drywall, you’re more likely to get hurt from not being in control. So you’re learning bad habits from the beginning.
Instead, try this approach: Once you’ve done enough Chaturangas and shoulder opening poses to feel ready, approach Adho Mukha Vrksasana by turning your back to the wall. Place your hands on the floor one legs’ distance away from the wall. With your hands solid on the ground, start to walk your feet up the wall. Make your way into an “L” shape, with your legs parallel to the floor and hang out there for as long as you can keeping a steady breath. As you gain strength here, you can practice with taking one foot at a time off the wall, reaching your leg straight up toward the ceiling. Another option from this “L” shape is to walk your hands toward the wall as your feet walk up higher too, until you’re in a nearly straight handstand. However you practice, remember: achieving a freestanding handstand is not necessary to receive the benefits of the pose though!
Like superhero or “power” posing, Adho Mukha Vrksasana doesn’t just make you feel stronger and more powerful—you actually will be!
How have you practiced getting into handstands?