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Q&A: How Can I Overcome My Fear of Handstand?

Esther Myers explains how you can learn to trust your body strength in Handstand.

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I’m having trouble having the confidence to go up into a Handstand. Any hints?

—Angie Cox

Esther Myers’ reply:

Fear is very common in Adho Mukha Vrksasana (Handstand), even though it is a safer pose for the neck than either Salamba Sirsasana (Headstand) or Salamba Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand). Overcoming the fear can be energizing and empowering. One of the benefits of Handstand is that it builds confidence in our ability to overcome fears and inhibitions.

The fear often comes from the feeling that your arms won’t support the weight of your body and you will come crashing down. If you do not have any injuries of your upper back, neck, shoulders, arms or wrists, then your fears are almost certainly unfounded.

You need to trust that your arms will support your body weight. Start by focusing on your arms in the poses you already practice and feel confident about. Feel the weight coming through your arms, without tensing in your arms and shoulders. Be aware of your breathing, and notice how it feels when you are strong and relaxed. Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose), Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward-Facing Dog Pose) and Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose) are very common poses where the arms bear weight.

Practice shifting from Downward-Facing Dog to Plank Pose, keeping your arms straight. As you shift forward, notice any tension in your arms, shoulders, or breath as your arms take more weight. When you are comfortable in this pose, try shifting on to one arm at a time Vasisthasana. You may notice that you have more confidence in your dominant arm, which is very common for most people.

To get the feeling of having your feet off the ground, start with Downward Facing Dog and climb your feet onto stairs, your bed or couch, or a bench. As you get more comfortable, try Half Handstand—a more challenging version of this pose. This pose takes much more upper body strength than Handstand. If you can do it, you are more than ready to do Handstand. Start standing a couple of feet from a wall, with your back to the wall. Place your hands on the floor and walk your feet up the wall. The arms will be perpendicular to the floor, the legs and torso parallel to the floor.

To learn to kick up, start in Downward Facing Dog with a relatively short distance between your hands and feet. Lift one leg up and back. Keeping your lifted leg straight, bend and straighten the standing leg to push off the floor. The thrust that will take you up comes from the standing leg, not the lifted leg. When this movement becomes smooth and easy, you are ready to come up. Notice any tension that arises when you shift your intention from practicing the movement to actually coming up. Take time to breathe and let this tension ease.

At this stage, it is very useful to have someone help you. As a teacher, I often find that standing next to my students is enough to give them the confidence to kick up on their own. It often takes just a little help for the student to come up. Once you realize that Handstand is much easier than you think, you will probably find the energy to come up by yourself.

The late Esther Myers’ 10 years as a student of Vanda Scaravelli inspired her to find her own unique, organic approach to yoga. Esther taught classes across Canada, Europe, and the United States before her death from cancer in 2004. She left behind a practice manual for beginners and a book titled Yoga and You, as well as two videos, Vanda Scaravelli on Yoga and Gentle Yoga for Breast Cancer Survivors.