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Adho Mukha Vrksasana (Handstand or Downward-Facing Tree Pose) is an inversion that gives you a sense of how to move through life’s challenges, broadens your horizons, and presents exciting new possibilities. What more could you ask from a pose?
“Handstand, like all balancing poses, requires that you feel comfortable with instability,” says Linda Sparrowe, former managing editor of Yoga Journal, and author of several yoga books. “When faced with instability of any kind—physical or mental—most of us tend to recoil immediately and try to regain control by locking things tightly in place. Ironically, this reaction only serves to make us more rigid and less able to make minute and sensitive adjustments to bring ourselves back into balance.”
Handstand demands that you treat yourself lightly, both literally and figuratively.
Sanskrit: Adho Mukha Vrksasana (ah-doh moo-kah vriks-SHAHS-anna)
Other names: Downward-Facing Tree Pose, Upward-Facing Tree Pose
Pose Type: Inversion
Targets: Full body
Why We Love It: “I taught myself to do Handstand when I turned 40. I try to practice it at least a few times a week,” says Tracy Middleton, Yoga Journal‘s brand director. “My theory: If I make it a regular part of my practice, I’ll still have the strength to do the pose when I’m in my 70s or 80s, even if I use props or the wall at that point. This isn’t about ego; maintaining muscle mass is critical as we age and this feels like a fun way to do it. Check back with me in 30 years to see if it worked.”
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Handstand builds strength in the shoulders, back, and abdomen, while uplifting your mood and increasing confidence.
Handstand: Step-by-step instructions
- Begin in Downward-Facing Dog.
- Bring your wrist creases parallel to the front edge of the mat. Turn your upper arms forward toward the wall in front. Press down evenly through your hands.
- On an inhalation, lift your heels. On an exhalation, step your right foot 1/3 to 1/2 of the way to your hands and shift your shoulders forward and directly over your wrists. Bend your right knee slightly and keep your left leg straight.
- At the end of your next exhalation, push off your forward foot to lift your left leg into Standing Splits, keeping your shoulders over your wrists. Lift your left inner thigh. Press down into your hands and straighten your arms.
- Fix your gaze on a point between and slightly ahead of your index fingers.
- Bend your right knee deeply and take a small hop off your right foot. As you transition weight to your hands, lift up through your left inner thigh. Repeat until you bring your right leg alongside your left leg. Do not focus on swinging your right leg overhead. Instead, focus on bringing your hips over your shoulders.
- When you are able to bring your right leg alongside your left, bring your legs together. Draw your low belly in and reach your tailbone toward your heels. Reach your heels away from your shoulders.
- Remain here for 5–8 breaths. To exit the pose, slowly release one leg at a time to the floor and pause in Standing Forward Bend.
- To increase the length and strength of your arms, turn your palms and inner elbow creases to face the ceiling while you draw your shoulder blades down your back. Then rotate your palms from your wrists to face the floor again.
Teaching Adho Mukha Vrksasana
These cues will help protect your students from injury and help them have the best experience of the pose:
- Don’t let yourself sag at the lower back. Draw your belly in and up as you resist the floor and seek balance. Push down into your hands and actively reach up through your feet and legs.
- Draw your legs together. As you hug your legs into the midline, move your tailbone and the tops of your buttocks toward your heels.
- Draw your low ribs toward your hips to prevent any backbending. Grow even taller by reaching your legs strongly up and away from your rooted and stable palms.
Variation: Handstand against a wall
Many people learn to hold Handstand by practicing against a wall. When you push off with one foot you can rest your heel agains the wall, then bring the other to meet it. Avoid the temptation to arch your back and press your chest out. Instead, draw your belly and ribs in and lengthen your tailbone toward your feet. Practice taking one foot, then the other away from the wall.
Variation: Handstand against a wall
Start in Downward-Facing Dog Pose with your heels against the wall. Slowly walk your feet up the wall until they are parallel to the floor. You can practice lifting one foot toward the ceiling, then the other. Stay for several breaths, then walk back down the wall.
Variation: Handstand on a chair
Set up a sturdy chair so that it won’t slip. Stand with your back to it and come into Downward-Facing Dog. Lift one leg and place your foot on the seat of the chair. Then take a slight hop off the opposite foot and kick your leg up toward the ceiling, Stay for several breaths, then try it on the opposite side.