Full arm balance holds a special place in the great yogic enterprise of becoming and remaining conscious in our bodies.
In part, that’s because standing on your hands opens your armpits like almost nothing else, and as B.K.S. Iyengar has famously said: “If you keep your armpits open, you won’t get depressed.”
It’s also the most purely inverted of all inversions, the closest you can come to come to completely reversing the energy flow of standing with your arms stretched overhead.
It’s a testament to the power of handstands that there are non-yoga web pages devoted to teaching how to do them, including The Lost Art of Hand Balancing and Wikihow.com. I think Wikihow comes closest to explaining the magic of handstand when it states that doing a handstand “can be used to impress people.”
Yes, it can, and most of all ourselves.
More than almost any other pose, arm balance gives a sense of physical capacity. Just ask Pippi Longstocking, the most empowered nine-year-old in fiction, who stands on her hands whenever she can.
When your day includes a handstand, you come down from the wall with a fresh mind, and a fresh sense of what it might be in your power to do.
This week’s Five-Minute Yoga Challenge is to allow the possibility of doing a handstand into your practice, and to take one small step in that direction every day.
• Start with downward facing dog. Work to hold the pose for two minutes, with your arms straight and your shoulder blades moving away from your elbows.
• Do dog pose, and take one leg up the wall. Work toward holding the leg up for 30 seconds to a minute, twice on each side. Check out Get a Leg Up on Downward Dog for more instructions.
• When that’s doable, try right-angle pose at the wall, a.k.a. half handstand. It will strengthen your arms, legs and upper body, give an intense stretch to your shoulders, and build your confidence for more advanced hand balances, and for life in general.
If you can do this, what can’t you do?
First, warm up first with downward facing dog. Then try out the pose in spinal stretch, with your hands at the wall and your feet on the floor. (Turn the photo sideways to see how it looks.) Then work with taking one leg at a time up the wall in downward dog.
When you’re ready, sit on the floor with your back to the wall, and your buttocks touching the wall. With your legs straight, lean forward and place a strap under your heels. Now kneel on your mat and place the heel of your hand to line up with the OUTER edge of the strap.
Come into downward dog with your heels at the wall and the heels of your hands just outside the strap.
Lift one leg and bring your foot to the wall at about hip height. Press your foot into the wall and bring your second foot parallel to the first, hip distance apart. Aim to have your body form a 90-degree angle, with your heels in line with your hips.
Press down into your hands. Straighten your arms. Lift your shoulder blades away from the floor.
Make your feet firm on the wall.
Roll your upper inner thighs in. From your front thighs, press your thighbones to the ceiling. Keep your back long. Lift the back rim of your pelvis up, toward your buttocks and the ceiling.
Take your front lower ribs away from your t-shirt, toward your spine.
Stay in the pose 20 to 30 seconds, come down and repeat. Build your strength until you can hold the pose in good alignment for one minute.
Ouch: If the idea of taking both feet off the floor frightens you, listen to your body’s wisdom, and work with taking just one leg up the wall until you feel stronger. If tight shoulders prevent you from straightening your arms, turn your hands so your fingers point out to the side. In this alignment, place the little finger side of your hand on the outside edge of the strap. Do not do this pose if you have existing wrist or shoulder injuries. Instead, talk to your teacher about safe ways to increase your strength.
J0y in the Cascades courtesy of aturkus, Flickr Creative Commons.
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