I am by no stretch of the imagination, a handstand expert, but thanks to my great trainer (my brother), I can now handstand for a decent length of time pretty consistently, as long as I concentrate and don’t start thinking about food or whether I left the oven on.
My yoga journey started with me throwing myself into poses and hoping I didn’t fall flat on my face – handstands being one of these. But ironically, as I’ve become a bit more self aware and realised that yoga is a lot more than just being able to do fancy inversions, my inversions have actually got a lot better. Probably because I’ve stopped panicking, started breathing and actually listened to the advice of people who know what they’re talking about.
Anyway, there’s a few little things that have been invaluable in my journey to freestanding handstand, and when I concentrate on all of these I generally feel pretty stable. They got me out of my 10-second-max rut, and I have even started incorporating them into my yoga flows which I never thought would happen.
Here’s my top tips to help you improve your handstand. Let me know if you have anymore and if you try any of these!
This one sounds strange but it is an absolute game changer when it comes to getting a decent amount of time upside down in handstand. The same principles can be applied to other inversions, and you may find you do this automatically anyway.
Essentially , your hands should not be flat on the mat or ground. Instead, curl your fingers so that only the heel of your palms and the tops of your fingers are in contact with the ground. In handstand you should be constantly adjusting to ensure you stay in balance, and having your hands in this position will enable you to do this. If you find yourself falling back down towards the mat, push as hard as you can onto the heel of your hands and it should stop you. Or, if you overdo it and kick up to hard, pushing the tops of your fingertips into the mat will stop you from going over and will help to keep you in balance.
This takes a fair amount of practise and a lot of people don’t realise how much strength you actually have in your fingertips! Practise against a wall and then eventually without, pushing down on your fingers almost like you’re playing piano to keep yourself balanced. The first time you find the magic spot between these two pressures will be the best day of your life, I guarantee.
Take It Slow
When starting to practise, it’s all too easy to launch yourself up and slam your feet and body against the wall, resorting in a huge crash and sort of defeating the point of finding to find stillness while doing inversions. If you’re doing handstands against the wall then this is OK to begin with, although I recommend finding other ways to get into handstand in order to avoid teaching yourself bad habits. If you’re doing a handstand without the wall then this launching technique is unlikely to work, or if it does it’ll be a total fluke. Throwing your legs up into the air and praying that your body will somehow stop you before you topple over isn’t the safest or most effective way to practise handstands.
Instead, think of going up slowly and calmly. Take a deep breath in before, and then think of ‘rocking’ yourself up onto your hands with control, so that when you feel your body reach the point of balance you can gently push on your fingertips to hold yourself there. This will take some practise, but the slower you can do it the more controlled the handstand will be and the easier it will be to find the point of balance. Remember to use your core to help bring your legs up and try to be aware of where your legs are at all times.
Push Through Your Shoulders
I am definitely guilty of not doing this and it has literally taken months of practise to get my shoulders engaged even 30% of the time. Try to focus on pushing down into the floor. This should naturally engage your shoulders. It should feel like you’re trying to get your shoulders up to your ears. Relaxing your shoulders and ‘sinking’ down will cause you to collapse your chest which means you will start to banana back. Once your back starts arching, it can be difficult to rescue it. Your body should be totally rigid, and making sure your shoulders are engaged will help you to engage the rest of your body too.
Have A Focal Point
This is a good tip when you are starting out, but as you get steadier you can play around with your focal point, either by changing where it is or trying not to focus on anything at all.
Choosing something on the ground to focus on is a great way to improve your balance, and it will allow you the stillness required to focus on other parts of your handstand. Once you find your point of balance, try not to move your eyes or hands, keep as still as you can because even a tiny movement can be hard to recover from. My technique is to silently scream ‘DO NOT PANIC’ to myself as soon as I am balanced. It’s always a temptation to get overexcited when you get past 5 or 10 or 15 seconds, but this is the worst thing you can do. Stay focused, stay completely still and keep your body rigid and you will be able to stay balanced for longer.