Four alignment tips for Handstands

Esther talks about what alignment tips have helped her in handstands....

mackenzie handstand workout

I recently filmed some classes on handstand for our Arm Balance Essentialsprogramme here on EkhartYoga.

There are many alignment actions and tips for handstands but you can only focus on so much at a time! So I decided to pick some alignment actions that worked well for me when I started to focus on handstands in my personal practice. 

In the yoga classes in the Arm Balance Essential programme I also go over these alignment actions to help you in your handstand. The great thing about these tips are that they are also helpful for many other poses. 

1. Neutral spine

Whether you are standing up, or upside down (with your hands functioning as your feet) you want the same postural alignment, that of a neutral spine.

To build up neutral spine in Mountain Pose/ Tadasana, do the following:

  • Push the thigh bones back and feel how that creates a curve in your back (you want a curve in your back). To balance that, release the flesh of the buttocks down / tail down and pull the low belly in and up a little. So the hips are in a neutral position.
  • Next soften your ribcage in and even take your side waist back a little, remember to keep your side body long and bring your shoulders on the back.
  • Bring your ears in line with the shoulders.

A lot of people tend to have a banana shape back in handstand which is not the best position for the back to be in. It also does not help you find balance in the pose. A good option is to ask someone to take a picture of you in handstand to find out your tendency, or film yourself with your phone if you can. 

EkhartYoga members: Practise these alignment tips with Esther in her class Handstand 1: Neutral Spine

2. Arms, hands and shoulder girdle alignment

Hands: 

Let鈥檚 start with the hands, you place them shoulder width apart – to be precise, index/middle finger lined up with the outer shoulder. Press the base of the thumb and index finger down and also the finger tips. Imagine pulling up energy from the earth through the palms of the hands, into the shoulder sockets.

Arms and shoulder girdle: 

With regards to the shoulder girdle, the arm bones really need to come into the shoulder socket to start with.
To give you an idea what I mean by that, come on hands and knees, hands under the shoulders, with neutral spine. You first push the floor away with your hands, feel how the arm bones move away from the shoulders and how the area between the shoulder blades rounds up to the ceiling. Next, as you soften the area between the shoulder blades to the floor you feel also how the upper arm bones glide in the shoulder socket. Let them glide down along the spine while keeping the side body long and allow them to firmly connect there. That is what you want: the head of the arm bones firmly connected in the shoulder socket and the space between the shoulder blades soft. When you are up in Handstand you keep that and at the same time extend out from the heart centre through the hands, without losing the connection.

EkhartYoga members: Practise this alignment with Esther in her class Handstand 2: Arm strength and alignment

3. Space

What needs to be open before you approach this pose, or to make this pose more accessible?

Lower body warm up: 

Make sure you have warmed up your hamstrings with either a Downward Dog Pose / Adho Mukha Svanasana, a Standing Forward Fold / Uttanasana or a Seated Forward Fold / Paschimottanasana.

Upper body warm up:

Warm up your upper body properly. You will save your self from muscle ache the next day. Poses like Eagle / Garudasana arms, Cow Face / Gomukhasana arms , Downward Facing Dog pose, Plank pose, Upward Facing Dog pose / Urdhva Mukha Svanasana or Cobra pose / Bhujangasana to open the upper back and arms. 
Any alternative shoulder / upper back stretches you come up with yourself will do nicely too! In the handstand series on the website in class 3 I give lots of alternative ways to open the appropriate areas up.

EkhartYoga members: Practise this alignment with Esther in her class Handstand 3: Flexibility

4. Put it all together with the Bandhas

So now when you kick up, you bring all the different alignment principles together and add one more. The one of Pada and Hasta bandha.

  • Pada bandha is the foot lock. It means you pull up through the arch of your foot while spreading the 4th and 5th toe. It connects the thigh bones in the hip sockets, also handy to keep when you kick up.
  • Hasta bandha, the hand lock, pulls up energy through the palms up in the shoulder socket, again, settling the head of the upper arm bone in the shoulder socket.

Pada bandha is closely connected to activating Mula bandha and Uddiyana bandha. When you pull up energy through the feet, as a result the inner legs, the pelvic floor muscles activate, and your lower abs too. Also the previously described actions of pulling the leg muscles up, bringing the thighs back and even rotate them in gently, releasing the tail down, puling the low belly in and up all contribute to activating Mula and Uddiyana bandha.

EkhartYoga members: Practise this with Esther in her class: Handstand 4: Putting it all together

Now it is all time to start practising your Handstand / Adho Mukha Vrksasana.

My recommendation is to practise neutral spine by itself first in your handstand practice. Then move onto the shoulder girdle alignment, etc. When your body is used to working with these principles separately, it will be possible to apply them all together after.

Follow the Arm Balance Essentialsprogramme to practise it all in class with me.

Have fun playing around with this beautiful, exhilarating pose!

Love
Esther

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Esther Ekhart
Esther EkhartEsther Ekhart, face and founder of EkhartYoga, brings years of personal yoga and meditation practice, therapy training and study of yoga philosophy into her teaching.