“To start with practice your standing postures with renewed attention and vigour, paying attention to the alignment of your flexions. Stop practicing your forward bends with a rounded back, and keep your hips above the heels”
In this article I shall explore the techniques, strength and flexibility needed to stand on the hands. All three of the above will be needed before we can achieve a safe and effective handstand.
Let’s first look at the strength needed to go upside down on our hands. I’m going to start with the arms and wrists and how to build adequate strength. Sitting in Dandasana and lifting the hips away from the floor and doing a kind of sitting press up will build sufficient arm and wrist strength. If you would like to work harder, then place a couple of blocks beneath the hands and start to lift and lower, while keeping the heels on the ground. Soon you will have the strength to sit in Dandasana and lift everything away from the floor, apart from the hands of course. There is an important part of the technique required to achieve lift off in Dandasana which will aid the handstand. Sitting upright and lowering the trunk towards the legs and then squeezing the rib cage, like maybe the effect a girdle would have, will keep everything tight and compact. This technique of keeping everything tight, compact and as small as possible is the same technique used in jumping back and jumping into seated.
Next let’s look at flexibility. If you want to practice piking up into handstand, then hip and hamstring flexibility are going to be essential. To start with practice your standing postures with renewed attention and vigour, paying attention to the alignment of your flexions. Stop practicing your forward bends with a rounded back, and keep your hips above the heels. So often when new students come to me I see forward bends executed with a rounded back, this will not improve hip flexibility or stretch the hamstrings. That’s not to say there are times when rounding the back may be essential depending on the individual. What I am covering in this article is basic alignment. Let’s take the alignment in Prasarita Padottanasana for example, once you have achieved your full flexion, with a straight back, then attempt to lift the back of the pelvis up towards the shoulder blades. This will put the pelvis back into neutral and you will soon notice the extra stretch on the back of the legs. It will help open the hips and is the correct alignment needed for pike handstand.
Now we need to add core stability to the recipe. The usual advice would be full press up; the problem is most students in my experience will collapse in the back attempting it. Try instead a forearm plank, this is an excellent way of quickly building core stability and strength. If you tend to collapse in the back, then lower the knees until the strength needed is gained. There are numerous modifications of press up you can choose. Beware though of building to much leg strength, make sure you add Pigeon’s to keep things supple.
Let’s look now at technique, which can make all the difference. As I said earlier keeping everything tight and compact will make all the difference to your practice. One of the techniques I advise is a variation on down dog. Make your down dog shorter than usual and try squeezing your rib cage while you tuck the tailbone and chin to chest, this is also excellent for helping with your jump throughs. Some exercises that can help with technique are laying on the floor with your hands behind the head and the palms pushing into the wall. Lift the knees up at right angles to the floor then try squeezing the rib cage. It is important to keep the arms tight to the ears, this will simulate locking out the elbow joints. There are three more variations to this exercise, drawing the knees closer to the chest. Taking the legs in a wide straddle and attempting to get the feet to the floor. Finally, keep the legs together and aim the soles of the feet at the wall just above the hands. Remember with all variations squeeze the ribcage and as you push the palms into the wall squeeze the inside of the arms into the ears.
There is much more I could say on this subject and I will probably return later with some more detail and some images.