Yearning for Handstand

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For many yoga students, the struggles with Handstand are often not just physical. Fear holds many students back. Fortunately, the steps that build the skills, strength, and openness needed for Handstand should also increase confidence.

There are two basic challenges in Handstand: gaining strength in the arms and trusting in their ability to hold the body, and learning to swing the hips up over the head. Robert Gray, director of the Park Boulevard Yoga Center in Oakland, California, suggests this approach to the first challenge: Start in Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog) with your heels at a wall, hands and feet a little closer to each other than usual. Walk your feet up the wall, bringing more and more weight onto your arms.

If your arms can support you here, you should have the strength to do Handstand. Repeat this exercise to build both strength and confidence.

You have to make a real commitment to get your hips and legs up over your head. At first, practice with a wall just behind you so that you won't worry about falling over backward. Keeping your weight forward over your hands (toward the wall), push firmly off one foot, swing the other leg and your hips up toward the wall, and immediately scissor the other leg up. It may take much more oomph than you think! But if you've developed arm strength you can trust, it's time to go for it.

Alternately, you can keep both feet together, bend your knees, and bunny-hop your hips up above your head. This is a great method for learning the almost weightless feeling of balancing your hips over your hands.

Whichever method you choose, take Robert's advice: "Approach the pose with a spirit of play and adventure."