Balance On The Hands
Adho mukha vrksasana, handstand to me is a journey of self discovering, it take times and need constant practices to build up muscles for resistance, flexibility and mobility. After fumbling around at the beginning until I finally able to balance on hands, I think I would like to dedicate in this little space of the blog on some of the tips I picked up along the way.
Hands and Arms
As the first part of the handstand journey, spend enough period of time to condition our hands is crucial, because to support our weight upside down, the first contact point of our body is our hands and over the evolution of human body, our hands is no longer serve the purpose of bearing our whole body on their own.
Now, let’s start with a little experiment with our hands, place palms on a flat surface and press the palms, as well as the finger tips firmly to the surface. Wrist, forearm and shoulder above the hands. If there are gaps in between the palms and the surface, practice to minimise the gaps. Spread fingers wide, index finger pointing forward and palms pressing down firmly, feel the stretch of the palm muscles, all around in the hands, to the sides, forwards and backwards. Then, without lifting up the palms, clench the surface of the floor by bending the fingers, elbows straight. Remember this movement of the fingers and hands because it is how they shall work to provide strength and balance during a handstand, the palms and finger tips are pressing hard on the surface and the fingers are still able to flex.
Commonly, we will need to hop to handstand many times when learning the handstand and our hands, forearm and wrists are constantly working together to stretch, pull and push. It is tiring and the after effect normally is wrists pain. Therefore, it’s crucial to develop some muscles strength around the wrists and forearms for endurance to avoid injury.
Two endurance practices I preferred are the 7-shape handstand against the wall and chest to wall handstand. Hold the pose and breath for about 20 seconds. Rest and repeat. Slowly build the strength up to 60 seconds. Resting ratio 1:3, depending how long the holding time is. This practices not only require the arms strength, it also work on other part of the body such as shoulder and core.
When the pose becomes challenging and uneasy during the holding process, step down from the wall. Always reserve some strength from getting out from the pose safely and prevent injury. In the circumstances when need to fall out quickly from 7-shape or chest-to-wall handstand, move one of the palms forward from parallel to each other, and land the feet and body sideway. Falling is one of the process to learn inversion.
Shoulder and Back
Fun fact, one of the reasons why it is hard to master the handstand because our hard works in conditioning the body will always put into waste when we are back to our back-hunching posture on the desk. Back then, there was time I injured myself on the shoulder because I didn’t evenly distribute my weight on the shoulder when practicing handstand. Therefore, attention to the works on the shoulder is important because shoulder girdles are one of the most mobile joints in the body and it could be challenging to learn how to put weight on the shoulder when upward rotating the scapula.
The works I recommend on the shoulder and back are any exercise that helps to open, strengthen and improve the flexibility of the shoulder. Keeping scapulas in and upper back flat is one of the keys to stabilise the pose and strengthen the muscles around the upper back will help to improve the holding time. The practice of handstand push-ups (on the wall) will dramatically strengthen and train on these muscles, or for modification, do downward facing dog push-ups or dolphin push-ups.
Core and Hip
For core, keep doing any exercise that will help to build up the core strength because all balancing need strength from the core of our body. Learn how to control the movement by using the serratus, the abdominal muscles and the obliques. Imagine our body is compact at all times during the handstand.
Engage the core and glutes, or in Sanskrit engage uddiyana bandha and mula bandha.
Describing uddiyana bandha is easy, engage the core muscles and tuck in the lower front ribs at all times. Control the breathing and belly movements.
Describing mula bandha can be tricky because most yoga teachers kept it vague due to the choice of words. First, slightly engage the muscles around the hip and inner thigh. Then, squeeze the anus in, like holding bladder. Another version of saying is, think of keeping the vulva tight and close (female), or think of pulling the testicles back into the pubic (male). In anatomy, pull and keep the pelvic floor muscle lifted.
Last of the tips, remember to keep toes pointed and engage the leg muscles during handstand. Essentially, we will be able stand on our hands, upside down, after working day after day on the hands, shoulder, back, core, hips and legs. Let’s keep practicing and enjoy the awesomeness. Namaste.