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You might have seen the curiously named #HairstandChallenge sensation on Instagram—the one that looks like the person is, incredulously, balancing solely on their long flowing locks. We’ll let you in on a (non)secret: It’s actually an illusion. Hidden behind all that hair tumbling to the floor is a One-Armed Handstand.
Known as Adho Mukha Vrksasana, a One-Armed Handstand is among the most intense yoga poses you’ll come across in your practice. It’s definitely worth learning, though, and not just for the IG fame. Being able to come into it can be immensely rewarding in its own right—not to mention incredibly demanding.
(Don’t have the long tresses to help create the illusion? We can’t help you there. But don’t let the length of your tresses keep you from working toward One-Armed Handstand!)
How to (Safely) Do Hairstand Pose
We spoke to several yoga teachers fluent in inversions to learn their insider advice on how to do this challenging pose safely and with as much grace as possible. Here’s what they advise.
Don’t skip the Handstand prep
It’s essential to have an existing inversion practice prior to attempting a one-armed version, explains Cealia Brannan, a yoga instructor based in Denver, Colorado. “Any level of inversion practice will help with core engagement, upper body strength, and balance when getting into Hairstand. With those things in place, a good warm-up sequence includes a few Sun Salutations, shoulder openers like Humble Warrior and Puppy Pose, and a good Headstand, Handstand, or Pincha play would set you up for success with this pose.”
You also want to specifically focus on the areas of your body most challenged by Hairstand. Linette Menaskan, a yoga teacher in Glendale, California, recommends preparing with basic wrist stretches in addition to those Surya Namaskar A (Sun Salutations). Also, don’t neglect the shoulders and core. “A great exercise to incorporate into your practice if you are trying to learn a One-Arm Handstand are shoulder shrugs in Handstand,” says Menaskan. “Likely against the wall, where you relax the shoulders, then push through your shoulders to lengthen your body and engage as much as you can.”
See also: 4-Step Get-Your-Handstand Plan
Find structural support for your Hairstand
Many yogis rely on a doorway for support in Hairstand. Any wall or structure of some sort—whether on one side or both—is essential to take some of the pressure off the wrist and shoulder and to provide additional stability. Play around with different structural surroundings and see what helps you find balance and feel safe—not just what makes a stunning photo.
Start in traditional Handstand
When you’re getting ready to snap that photo, you need to get stable on two hands first. As you transition, go slowly, advises Natalia Difolco, a yoga instructor and owner of Bask Hot Yoga in New Jersey. “Carefully enter into a Handstand using both hands,” says Difolco. “Resist with your legs by pressing the tops of your feet into the doorframe to provide rigidity and stability before slowly shifting the weight into the supporting hand.”
As you transition to bearing all your weight to your hand furthest from the camera, make certain you feel stable first. Then and only then, advises Difolco, lift the floating hand up toward your feet.
First come onto the fingertips of the hand you’re about to lift. Pause there until you feel balanced. “Adopt proper alignment of hips over shoulders, chest pressing through arms, core pulling in, and hands pressing hard into the ground,” says Brannan.
Stability first. Then the shot. “Tell your photographer to get ready and then shift your weight to the arm that will be hidden by your hair,”explains Jess Beers, owner of White Lotus Transformation. “Make sure your head is dropped so that the hair falls straight down. Then sweep the arm closest to your photographer up and do a mudra with the fingers.”
If you’re unsure of whether or not you can hold Hairstand, ask someone to be your spotter, suggests Brannan. If possible, that person would be able to offer alignment cues as well as help ease your landing if you fall out of the pose.
Take any version of Hairstand that works for you
You can use whatever leg position works best for you. Your priority in a pose is always how it feels. Not how it looks. Although they may not be mutually exclusive.
Come out of Hairstand before you need to
Beers adds one more safety tip: Let yourself come down before you fall down! The pose places an enormous amount of pressure on your shoulder and wrist. You can always come down from Hairstand and then try it again rather than exhaust yourself and risk injury. If you’re doing several takes, change sides so you’re not overtaxing a single side.
Revel in the process—and the benefits
Learning to do a One-Armed Handstand is about more than the stunning shot. As with any pose or intense undertaking that requires dedication and practice, there’s satisfaction and confidence once you arrive at your destination. You’ll also learn that your body is capable of doing incredible things.
But it’s also what you encounter along the way. Menaskan finds the pose to be meditative in that it “gives you a sense of feeling so in tune with your body… it helps turn your mind off and solely focus on your Handstand and your body in order to maintain balance.” Not qualities that are typically associated with Instagram Challenges—though we’ll take it.
Even if you are not yet able to come into the full expression of this or any challenging pose, you’ll experience a feeling of strength and empowerment, gain confidence in your abilities, and be reminded of the necessity of practice, patience, and perhaps even being able to laugh and not take yourself too seriously. #practiceandalliscoming
Have you tried the Hairstand Challenge? Tag @YogaJournal in your posts on Instagram!