How to Get Unstuck on Your Handstand Journey
If you really want to get a handle on this most elusive of holy-grail poses, I’ve got to give it to you straight: There is no substitute for miles logged, my friend. You already know it deep down….
Practice, repetition, and a burning desire are non-negotiables if you want to learn to hold and “stick” your handstand. But you can do it!
Here are 10 essentials to keep in mind –>
1. Practice 1,000 times + then practice 9,000 times more.
This is not a joke! If you practice 1x a day, it’ll take you about 30 years to master the handstand. Practice ten times a day, and it’ll take ten years to master. (This might be tongue in cheek — but only slightly!)
Accomplished yoga asana practitioners commonly report taking about five years before they feel competent in the skill of handstand. Don’t let that dim your flame though! 🔥
Remember: Time is going to go by anyway. Five years from now you’ll either have diligently practiced or NOT diligently practiced. Keep your fire lit, and decide today that you’re going to be a handstander if you want to be a handstander (Cuz, why not? It’s fun.).
2. The wall is your best prop. // Aim for 1-min holds.
If you’re not ready to practice away from the wall, then use the wall to its fullest. Try this magic drill:
Kick up to the wall and make yourself as tall as humanly possible.
Use your fingers to begin your vertical growth. Get longer in your shoulders. Get long and strong through your tummy. Get long through legs and even your feet.
Build toward a one-minute hold. Then a minute and a half. Then two minutes ( = total beast territory).
Getting taller like this forces you to integrate all of your muscular supports. If you hadn’t been thinking of height before you did this drill, you might not have engaged the erector spinae of your back to their fullest, for instance.
Thinking of getting taller teaches you how your hands and fingers are responsible for firming up your foundation. It teaches you how your abdominal wall supports your trunk. Finally, thinking of height trains you to use your legs — until you’re ultimately engaging the entirety of your body to execute handstand.
Total-body engagement is important because if any part of you is loosey-goosey, your handstand will be loosey-goosey too.
SOMETIMES, if you reach up high enough through your heels, you’ll float right off the wall. Give it a try.
3. Get off that wall and learn to fall.
Fear of falling is the single greatest obstacle to handstanding. Face your fear and fall on purpose. My two favorite ways to fall:
- Cartwheel off to the side.
- Fall into wheel pose (the backbend).
Of these, #2 is the more likely to have you handstanding very soon, but it’s also the way scarier and more demanding way to fall out. Build toward the *wheel landing* incrementally and patiently, only after properly warming up.
If the wheel landing feels out of reach, no worries. There are as many ways to fall out as there are practitioners.
Bottom line here is, falling is an art form. You have to master it before you master handstand. Think about it: If you finally, officially stick your handstand on the 10,000th try, that means you’ve fallen out 9,999 times. Fall often and fall well.
4. Mix up your surfaces.
Want the fast track to handstand? Then practice on sand. Practice on grass. Practice on your carpet. On your furniture. On a friend.
The benefit of getting experimental with where you’re doing your handstand is twofold:
#1) Soft surfaces reduce fear;
#2) Varied surfaces amp up your motor synergy more effectively than the same old, same old. We’re not just talking about the body btw. Your brain needs time and chances to build strong associations between muscle groups. Applying various loads and angles like this will strengthen the neurological association between your fingers and your wrists, as an example, and that kind of improved muscular cooperation will work its way up your frame.
To summarize this one: You’re looking for muscular synergy, and varying your surfaces will get you there.
5. Do not whip this sh$t out at parties.
Or, go ahead, handstand away. All I’m saying is, you might find that people are not impressed — they might even be exceedingly bored — by your almost-mastery of the handstand.
Then again, every gathering needs its spectacle, so if that’s your zone of genius, have at it. I speak btw as someone totally guilty of being “that guy.” (Partying post-pandemic or with our pods, of course. #maskup).
The next tip is less sardonic, I promise…
6. Don’t forget that flexibility plays a role in handstand mastery.
Any veteran hand balancer will tell you that flexibilty MATTERS when it comes to accessing handstand. Hamstring flexibility makes the whole affair a lot easier (though it’s definitely possible to do a fantastic handstand even with stubbornly tight hamstrings). Same with shoulder mobility.
Shoulders: Take the time to warm up and stretch your chest & shoulders regularly. Find a few favorite stretches and do them with zeal.
Why the shoulders?
A good handstand is a firm vertical line of energy that requires complete flexion of the shoulder joint. Many of us, as a casualty of modernity, are not able to lift our arms overhead in a straight line comfortably. Thus, we compensate by backbending or thrusting the chest forward — ideal neither for aesthetics nor for safety in alignment (Now you know why I can’t get enough Puppy Pose).
As I’ve said, hamstring flexibility helps too. Think of it like this: If you’re doing standing split and you’re flexible enough, your top leg is essentially already in the inversion, ya feel me? There’s less territory to travel.
Bottom line HERE is: There’s a temptation to only practice “the skill” and to build strength to support the skill; but do not forget that s t r e t c h i n g is a main ingredient in the handstand recipe.
7. Handstand brings you no closer to enlightenment.
You know what’s more likely to bring you liberation? A major setback. An injury. The discovery that you’re really no good at this handstanding thing.
The sooner you embrace the futility, insignificance, and relative absurdity of the handstand-as-endgame the better off you’ll be. Have a laugh.
As one of my favorite teachers says, “You can be good at handstand and still be an asshole.”
8. You will probably get injured. It’s part of the process.
FEW are those who have mastered handstand without overdoing it on a shoulder or inflaming a wrist on the way. I’ve come to learn that each of my injuries has contained a lesson.
Cases in point:
Shoulder injuries may mean you need to rest more, warm up longer, be slower with your progress, and learn to distribute the labor elsewhere.
Wrist injuries can be a reason to strengthen your fingers and hands. You might just end up handstanding the better for it.
Been here? What did you injure? What did it teach you?
9. Don’t expect to pick up where you leave off.
Did you fall off the practicing wagon? Be mindful of those breaks!
The surest route to injury is to jump back in at 💯% after several or more days off
— especially if you are expecting the same of yourself as when you stopped practicing.
Chances are, you’re going to need a few patient days or weeks of rebuilding before you can return to the level you reached prior to hiatus.
Speaking of taking breaks… How often should you practice?
Real talk: 3 days/week is minimum, 6 days/week is ideal (eventually).
That said, DO NOT PUSH IT if you’re body parts are achey or overworked. One or two days of rest can be the secret sauce to a masterful handstand practice. If you’re not sure… Start with every other day and then add days one by one. Just avoid jumping back in at full velocity after a break of three or more days.
10. Vary your drills.
Most people who want to do handstand will do the following –>
They’ll watch a tutorial or go to a favorite teacher and pick up 2 or 3 favorite drills that lead up to handstand. They do these over and over again and have great fun with ’em.
Nothing wrong with that EXCEPT that all that usually gets you is really good at those 2 or 3 drills.
Don’t settle for 2 or 3 types of drills when you can be doing 9 or 10 regularly. This’ll make sure you strengthen many different muscle pairings. It’ll keep you from fatiguing the same muscles every time and then losing steam too quickly. Plus, it’ll keep things interesting enough to hold your attention — and ultimately have YOU holding handstand!
Consider these ‘commandments’ your 10 friendly reminders when you feel stalled in your handstand journey. With not a single “Thou shalt not…”!
Happy inverting, adventurers.
The 10 Commandments of Handstand:
- Practice 10,000 times.
- Use the wall. // Hold for 1 minute+.
- Get off the wall & learn to fall.
- Mix up your surfaces.
Don’t be a show-off. Screw it, go ‘head.
- Flexibility is at least as important as strength.
- You can achieve perfect yoga with or without handstand.
- Learn from injuries.
- Don’t jump back in too hard after you’ve taken a break.
- Vary your drills.
Have fun. Stay lit.