Hanging Around, Upside Down
By Benita Wolfe (BJ Galvan)
One of the all-time favorite poses in the Anusara basic syllabus, equally as loved as it feared, would have to be Adho Mukha Vrksasana, Downward Facing Tree Pose, Handstand, or ‘Pino’ in Spanish.
Why on Earth would anyone want to do handstands? They are fun and playful and invoke positive emotions from courage to joy. Not only are handstands fun. They are transformative in body, mind, and Heart. I have seen the beautiful benefits of doing handstands in myself and in hundreds of people of all ages, sizes, and ability. The oldest student I remember who I have guided into a supported handstand was in her mid 80’s, and the youngest, my grandkids at one or two. In my 20 years of teaching handstands, I have never seen anyone not smiling or laughing in ecstasy after doing their first handstand.
Handstands are like a drug with a buzz that doesn’t wear off. They have the ’buzz’ that keeps on giving. Handstand is my go-to pose whenever I feel a need for a shift in mental perspective or emotional feeling. I use it as a ‘restorative’ pose, and it is my favorite devotional pose. I feel it come through me as a full downward facing Pranam (bow, or ‘going forth’ in honor) with my hands on the earth, my toe roots anchored in the unity of the Heavens, and in between sits the Infinite Eternal drumbeat of Love as me and my little own Heartbeat.
On the more technical side of handstand, physically it literally turns the body upside down and let students ‘see’ the world in a new way, from a different perspective, meaning upside down. So handstand physically shifts perspective for a few moments; however, the effects continue long after coming down, because the pose keeps on giving. When performed with balanced action and precise alignment, physically handstands build strength in the arms, shoulders, and upper body. Handstand is a pose to include as a prep in sequencing for full wheel (or urdhva dhanurasana) because the shape of the body in handstand is the same shape of the upper body in wheel. Handstand prepares the body by integrating the shoulders and opening the upper back and heart.
While handstand is technically an “inversion”—any pose with the head below the heart— it falls under the class of poses called hand balances in the Anusara syllabus of poses. In addition to strengthening and opening the upper body, the subtler physical benefits from the inversion aspect of handstands include stimulation and a recharge of the endocrine system, enhancing hormonal balance and metabolism; the digestive system is stimulated, enhancing digestion and bowel regularity; and the circulatory system is charged, regulating blood pressure and much more.
Emotionally and mentally, handstands encourage courage, joy, confidence, playfulness, and they bring out our inner little kid for fun on the grown up playground, helping to uplift our hearts, clearing our mind, and relieving depression and torpor.
Spiritually, handstands help us to see the world with new eyes. We taste our own joy and begin to really see and experience it, everyone, and everything. Whether in a balancing handstand in the middle of the room or supported handstand at the wall or with friends who know how to stabilize safely, we experience upwelling of goodness that arises from the practice of this pose. Some would say this is a taste of our own natural, Eternal Joy or Cit (Consciousness) Ananda (Bliss). This little taste of internal heaven feels like the elusive elixir of transformation, healing; it becomes the healthy habit that invites us upside down again and again.
Key* Alignment Principles:
- Hug to the Vertical Midline – Muscular Energy (2nd)
- Engage the feet and spread the toes evenly – Muscular Energy and Organic Energy (2nd + 5th)
- * If the Key alignment is NOT happening, the pose will either collapse or be rigid.
- Instructions to Kick Up at a wall:
- Please come to all fours – Table position
- Place your knees under hips, shins straight back and parallel, feet curled in all fours.
- Spread your fingers and place your fingertips first. Then place your hands on the
mat underneath your shoulders.
- Middle of your wrist as wide as your outer shoulder.
- Wrist creases parallel with front short end of the mat.
- From the middle of your wrist a vertical line bisects the index and middle finger, closer to the index finger, wrist creases parallel with front short end of the mat.
- Take a deep Breath
- Lengthen the sides of your body.
- From the back of your heart, settle towards the earth with passive muscular energy so your shoulders move onto your back body and shoulder blades come towards each other, supporting the back of your heart.
- Keep all that.
- Inhale with strong hands, shoulders move over your wrists, lift your hips.
- Hands are in the same placement, shoulders over wrist, shoulder blades flat on back.
- Hips lift high, legs move towards straight.
- Exhale, make sure there is nothing in your ‘kicking zone.’
- Inhale and lift one leg high; make the let straight and active and keep that; activate toes of lifted foot; come onto the toes of your other foot.
- Exhale, pause, and remember to keep your heart engaged.
- Inhale; activate your hands, arms, and legs and energetically draw into your heart.
- Exhale; from your heart push down through your arm bones into the Earth.
- Inhale; strong heart and arms.
1. Bend and push your bottom leg into the earth strongly to kick your top leg to the wall,
2. Bring your bottom leg to the sky.
3. Squeeze your legs together strongly, and spread your toes.
- Exhale push from your heart into the earth; grow from your heart through your leg
bones; toes shine into the heavens.
- Stay a couple of breaths if you can.
1. inhale strong arms, legs together toes active,
2. exhales root from your courageous heart to the earth and sky.
- Take a breath, on an exhale, strong belly, keep your legs strong and straight, begin to lower one straight leg to the earth and then the other. After a breath or so in forward bend, come to standing on an inhale; straighten the spine, and share your beautiful, joyful smile.
The KEY Principles in Handstand: How they are expressed in the Pose
- First Principle – Open to Grace
- Intention – Open to the Courageous Heart within (Core + Engage = Courage)
- Breath – Kick up on Inhale; breath through out the posture.
- Foundation – Clear Placement of Hands (clear and precise).
- Evenly Spread fingers, place hands.
- Middle of wrist as wide as Outer shoulder.
- Wrist lined up parallel with front, short end of the mat.
- Tips of fingers press into the earth – whitish fingertips.
- Metacarpals pressing, especially the index fingers (4 corners of palm).
- Inner body buoyant; sides from hips to shoulder long; head of the arm bones engaged with gravity; passive Muscular energy.
- Second Principle – Muscular Energy “HUG THE MIDLINE”
- Upper Body
1. Hands are engaged; there is a sublet lift at the back of the hand where the hand meets the wrist at the retinaculum.
2. All the muscles of the arms are evenly engaged
1. Top of the forearm feels supple.
2. Underside of forearm is active and strong.
- Upper Arms
1. The biceps and triceps are evenly engaged in balanced action so the
arms are straight; eyes of the elbows are facing each other; and there
is no hyperextension OR bend in the elbows.
1. Heads of the arm bones back, the shoulders are engaged with the back
2. Shoulder blades are engaged flat on the back, drawing towards the
- Lower Body – “ENGAGE THE FEET”
1. Feet are active (like mountain pose feet) between pointed and flexed
2. All leg and buttocks muscles engaged
- Thighs squeezing together at the midline.
- Ankles together, and shins active to the midline.
- Inner edges of the feet squeeze together.
- Upper Body
- Fifth Principle – Organic Energy – “SPREAD THE TOESEVENLY”
- Toes are spread evenly.
- Entire Body:
- Root from the Heart through the arm bones.
- Rise from the Heart through the legs and toes.
For interesting handstand tidbits, go to Facebook Group HANDSTAND ANONYMOUSTM.