The Secret to Doing Handstands and Headstands: Yoga Girl® Tutorials
Getting upside down is healthy for the mind, body and soul. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy! My journey with inversions like headstands, then handstands, then pressing into a handstand… it all took patience and practice.
But the true key? I had to believe in myself.
When I first started practicing handstands, the idea of pressing into them seemed so far fetched that I might as well be trying them on the moon.
Pressing your hands into the ground and lifting your entire body off the floor? Nah-ah. It just makes no sense!
One of my teachers, Brock Cahill, and his wife Krista came to Aruba for a retreat years ago. I remember staring at them pressing up in complete awe, without any understanding whatsoever of how this miraculous yoga move was even possible.
I tried, and failed.
Tried, and failed.
It's one of those things I just figured wasn't for me. Which is the same thought I had about deep backbends at the time, just an FYI.
I now know that I can backbend in ways I never thought I could ever learn (my heart-opening practice might not look like much to the world, but it's a HUGE thing for me to even be able to make my way into Wheel without excruciating pain or fear of hurting myself).
My issues with backbends are a whole other story (2 car accidents and scoliosis come into play), but my point is that I do backbend today. I move into poses that were nowhere near accessible to me just a few years ago.
So, why wouldn't it be the same with the handstand press?
My point exactly!
I was drinking wine with my husband one night. After a bottle and a half or so, I ended up doing some handstands (and dropping into and picking back up from Urdhva Dhanurasana with his support — yay!)
Yes, we drink wine and do yoga.
We have a Pilates ball that I started using for fun a few weeks prior, not with the intention to press but to play and try some fun core work. I did a press from the ball (it was easy with the momentum of the ball), and Dennis said, " I think you can TOTALLY do that from the floor."
"No way!" was my only response. Never!
He put 2 blocks down for me on the floor, I put my hands down...
And it happened.
In a row.
I was pressing into Handstand!! From the floor!! On blocks and with my legs wide, yes, but still — it's a press.
My jaw dropped! I hadn't been working on this in my practice at all. Since I'd always had this idea that it's just completely impossible, it never occurred to me that it could just happen like that.
I realized that it's my mind that has been getting in the way the whole time (as with most things).
Because I'd been telling myself, "Oh, that's just never going to happen," it's never happened. I was limiting myself with an idea in my head.
Fact of the matter is, I CAN press. And practicing that night, I knew that one day I would be doing it without blocks, too.
Just like when I was learning how to do a handstand.
Before I was questing for the press, I spent years just learning how to be upside down. Yoga is a never-ending journey back to parts of you that are free from fear, pain and doubt. It can take time to make the journey, and that is okay.
So if you’re working on a basic handstand before getting all fancy with press work, I have you covered!
Back when my husband and I spent more days traveling and teaching abroad than we did at home, we got the spontaneous idea to make our day even busier by filming a handstand tutorial video (I guess we still couldn’t get enough yoga!).
Dennis shot, directed and edited this Handstands 101 video in half an hour before we had to run to the airport (I know, he's a great catch!!).
The basic, key points of alignment for handstands are:
- Shoulders above wrists
- Fingers spread wide
- Thumb and index finger pressing down firmly
- Straight arms
- Hips squared
- Shoulders off of your neck
- Top leg straight and strong the entire time — only your bottom leg bends when you kick!
- Gaze forward
- Kick your bottom heel into your SIT bone when you kick up to make balancing easier
Try to get away from the wall by using these techniques above.
It’s common to practice against a wall, and although that can be helpful, too often we get stuck in the same bad alignment that keeps us at the wall forever! For example, leaning your feet toward a wall makes you dump all of your weight into your lower back, which is a big no-no.
Here are some more tips to keep in mind as you practice:
- When you start kicking up to handstand, begin gently!
You won't be kicking very high when you first start out. You don't want to flip over or fall into a backbend, and there should be no fear involved in these kicks at all. With time and practice, you'll be able to kick higher and higher.
When you get your hips to line up with your shoulders, you'll be able to find that magical balance upside down.
When you're in your full handstand with both legs stretched to the sky, make sure you lengthen your tailbone toward your heels so that there is no sway in your lower back.
Draw your lower ribs in towards the centerline of your body, like you want to connect your floating ribs to the two frontal points of your hips.
Remember to breathe! Handstands are fun! And with practice, they’re accessible to ALL. Have fun with it, and stay aligned! Your body will thank you.
For those even newer to arm balances, maybe headstands are more up your alley!
This is a breakdown of Salamba Sirsasana, or Supported Headstand. __It's a great pose, but it’s super important to note that the word headstand can be very misleading! You actually want to keep as much weight off the head as possible. __
Personally, I rarely practice headstands (or shoulder stands). I prefer handstands since there is no weight on the head, no pressure on the neck and it’s a much safer pose to move into (it actually lengthens the spine, whereas headstands can compress it if not practiced with perfect alignment).
However, headstands are more accessible and easier to learn than handstands, so it's a great introductory inversion to learn.
Note that this is a pose you should practice with caution, patience, and a wall when you first start out.
There is no kicking involved, no momentum, and make sure to use a wall until you feel stable — no falling out! Falling out of supported headstands can twist the neck in ways we definitely want to avoid, so stay mindful in your practice.
When you begin learning this pose, there will be some weight on your head, but strive to change the bulk of weight away from your crown and into your shoulders and core as much as you can. __As you start out you might keep 60% of the weight in your forearms and shoulders and 40% on your head, aim to get to 90-10! __
Once in the "full" pose, you actually want there to be enough space between your head and the floor for someone to slide a sheet of paper in and out.
1. The prep pose here is Dolphin Pose.
Keep your elbows in line with your shoulders and your wrists in line with your elbows.
A little bend around your knees is fine, just lengthen your spine and draw your shoulder heads down your back body. Try to create space for your neck, as you use this frame of your upper body as a preparation for your alignment in headstand.
You can begin with your knees on the floor, like you’re about to move into Child’s Pose.
Measure the space between your elbows (you want to be able to wrap your hands around the side edges of your elbows (meaning your elbows will be right beneath your shoulders).
Keep this space! A common mistake is to first measure, and then move the elbows out to the sides. Doing so will make you lose the frame of your upper back and you will collapse in your chest when you make your way upside down — no good! Make sure you keep your elbows right where they are.
2. Then interlace your fingers making a “cup” with your hands and tuck the last pinkie in (so you have a flat base).
Press your inner wrists down and place the crown of your head inside of the “cup,” but without actually connecting your head to your hands — they are simply there for support; you are not physically wrapping your hands around your skull.
If you’re unsure of where the exact crown of your head is, place the base of your palm in between your eyebrows. Where your middle finger connects right at the top of your skull, that’s the center point of the crown.
You can also place a block or a book on the top of your head; find the balancing point — that is your center. Make sure you get this space right to not create any unnecessary pressure around the neck when your head is on the floor!
3. Now, tuck your toes and lift your knees up off the floor (almost like Dolphin Pose!).
*This is the real Step One, so if you are prepping for this pose but not ready to lift your feet up off the ground yet, this is where you start your practice. *
Press your forearms firmly onto the floor, drawing your shoulder blades away from your neck.
Start to slowly walk your feet closer in toward your elbows. Your most important task here, if you’re just beginning to move into this pose for the first time, is to keep as much pressure as you can off the head! Dolphin Pose is great to help you create the strength you need.
When you feel ready to, walk your feet as close toward your elbows as you can. Eventually, your hips will be aligned right above your shoulders. When that happens, you’re more than halfway there!
No kicking or jumping is involved, but you will shift your weight slightly forward until you feel your feet becoming lighter.
4. Lift one foot off the floor, drawing your knee into your chest.
Try alternating your legs, and with practice you’ll eventually lift both feet off the ground.
Keep your knees drawn into your chest and find your balance here.
When you feel ready, start to extend your legs toward the sky.
Once you’re in full headstand, keep the pressure off the head! Use the strength of your shoulders, core and your upper back to press your forearms firmly to the floor, making your head lighter.
Draw your low belly into your spine and lengthen your tailbone toward your heels. Energize all the way to the tips of your toes, and breathe!
Come down the same way you came into the pose — one leg at a time. Rest in Child’s Pose with your arms completely extended for as many breaths as you spent upside down.
Yoga continues to teach me so much. Through my practice, this is one of the most important and life-changing realizations I’ve ever had...
We are limitless beings. There is no limit to what we can create when we believe in who we are.
Arm balances and inversions are a great way to check in with how much you believe in yourself, or how much you’re letting fear run the show.
Remember, where attention goes, energy flows.
What are you looking to manifest in your life right now? In what ways is your mind holding you back? Tell me in the comments below! And tell yourself: I CAN DO THIS. Now, go do it!
P.S. If you're looking to start a yoga practice, check out my blog post, or watch my YouTube video, or head over to the Practice page for tons of classes by expert guides!