Happy October! In all of my classes this month, I’ll be teaching a series focused on strength and conditioning exercises to prepare for Handstand. Handstand! One of the most elusive and enticing postures I’ve come across. There’s something so, so sweet about balancing on my hands, and feeling all my muscles in precise orchestration. Handstand requires strength, balance, mobility, theright breath, state of mind and gaze point. We’ll be working with several areas of the body over the course of the month:
1. Hand and Wrist strength and flexibility
2. Rotator Cuff stability
3. Chest openers
4. Core strength
5. Adductor strength
6. Gaze point
The wrists bear a lot of weight in yoga asana practice. It’s important to properly warm up and cool down the hands and wrists, especially in a series aimed at Handstand. I will be teaching various warm ups and cool downs, as well as instructing how to properly press the hand down… That may seem intuitive, but the thumb side of the wrist is stronger than the pinky side of the wrist. So if we’re not intentional with our handprints, we can end up harming the wrist joint.
The rotator cuff muscles which form a girdle for the shoulder, need specific attention in Handstand. Of the three rotator cuff muscles, the infraspinatus and the teres minor are the two external rotators of the upper arm bone/humerus. We need to have the arms in external rotation in many postures, including Downward Facing Dog and Handstand. So we’ll be doing a lot of strengthening of those two and mobilizing of the internal rotators, the subscapularis and teres major. In order to get the arms next to the ears without moving into extension of the spine (a back bend), we need to mobilize the pectoralis muscles. So there will be a plethora of chest opening postures too.
As the students that frequent my classes know, I love core work. Love! A mantra that I offer to students during their umpteenth breath in a core strengthener pose or exercise is, “The stronger my core, the easier my life will be”. So true! Notice I didn’t say, “The more ripped my six pack is, the easier my life will be”. The rectus abdominus, the six pack muscle, is the most superficial of the abdominal muscles and isn’t nearly as helpful for “core” strength and stability as the transverse abdominus. The transvese is the deepest layer of abdominal tissue, which runs along the transverse or horizontal plane. It’s action is to narrow the waist, like a corsette. We will work with the kind of core strengthening that mimics what our core muscles are doing in handstand. No crunches here!
The adductors are the group of inner leg muscles, that draw the legs towards one another (adduction). When we’re balancing, whether it’s on the feet in a standing pose, or on the hands or forearms upside down, squeezing the thighs towards one another helps tremendously. This is something I learned way back in my dancing days, and still use as technique in my current Belly Dance training. We can squeeze the inner thighs towards one another and gain a whole lot of stability. So, think thigh master, in a yoga class, but not in 80’s leotards, and not with an actual thigh master.
As for the gaze point or drishti, it’s important for many reasons, where you focus your gaze. There are different places that are useful for different reasons, depending on what you need for your personal practice. Still eyes help to calm the mind, and help to maintain balance. Come to class and I’ll help you find your perfect gaze point!
The breath is the foundation of any posture. I consider it the most important part of the posture. And we can learn to breathe in a way that keeps the nervous system relaxed, even in a demanding posture like Handstand. Another aspect of the breath that can be of great value in helping up into and maintain Handstand, is properly exhaling, which automatically engages mula bandha. This is an energetic valve that directs energy to flow upwards, which helps us to get our legs over our head in inversions, and helps us to stand tall when the feet our on the ground (among many other benefits and actions). This upward flow of energy is called, , and it’s activated when we exhale completely, by toning the low belly in and up to facilitate the exhale. Learn to breathe and you can learn to fly!
If you’re interested in learning to get into Handstand, or to strengthen, stabilize and mobilize these key areas of the body that we use EVERY day, join me at any of my classes, and we’ll ROCK IT!