Intermediate Challenge Poses

Why Athletes Need Handstands

Sage Rountree explains Handstand's physiological and psychological benefits for athletes.

While my weekly yoga for athletes class usually uses Happy Baby pose or Legs up the Wall as our inversion for the practice, periodically I teach a sequence leading to Handstand (Adho Mukha Vrksasana). One night, a student asked me, “What’s the reason for doing handstand?”

Yoga asana is designed to prepare us for sitting in meditation, and to that end it needs to develop core strength and hip flexibility, so that the spine and pelvis can be comfortably aligned and supported. Asana also teaches us how to maintain our focus and presence even in challenging situations—another important tool for meditation and for life. Handstand helps with both.

Physiologically, handstand is a core-strength pose. It teaches you how to return to Mountain Pose alignment, pulling in to center, in a new relationship to gravity. This also helps you regain balance when you misstep on the trail, have to make a sharp cut on the court, or wobble on your bike.

Metaphorically, learning how to come to Handstand also builds inner strength. You’ve got to experiment and be open to failure so you can learn the right amount of effort to get the task done. After each mistake, you need to recenter and have another go.

Psychologically, making it to Handstand—or not making it—teaches you about your limits. Watching your reaction to the idea of getting into the pose lets you investigate your fears. What exactly are you afraid of? Injury? Loss of control? Failure? Overcoming these fears and moving past perceived limits teaches valuable skills for sports and for life. And when you don’t get to handstand—when the fear is too great, or an injury or imbalance in the body makes it a bad idea—you have an important opportunity to practice self-compassion.

—Sage Rountree