Headstands are one of those yoga moves that look super cool, but also quite unattainable. Not only do you have to hold your entire weight above your head, seemingly with your actual head, but it appears to be only a maneuver for the very fit and the very limber.
In the most simplest terms, a handstand involves raising your body straight up using your hands, while keeping the body stable and balanced in a vertical position, explains Jamie Bacharach, Dipl.Ac of Acupuncture Jerusalem. “A beginners or basic handstand is one where the performer stretches out the arms and legs fully, and extends them upright to form a continuous sort of line from hands to toes,” she explains.
Headstands are certainly challenging, especially when a person first attempts one. In fact, they require engaging virtually every muscle in the body. “This is integral for stability and support, since activated muscles wrap tightly onto bones, holding them in place and making the practitioner feel more in control while upside down,” explains Dina Ivas, yoga instructor and founder of Yoga With Dina. “It’s also crucial when training for hand-standing to cultivate a strong core as it’s the body’s center of gravity, and also build strength in the shoulders to establish a stable base.”
While there’s no denying the fact that mastering a handstand is hard work, it can absolutely be done—by pretty much anyone! Just as with any pose, Ivas notes that consistent practice is critical to holding a handstand. “The more one tries, the more the body feels comfortable standing on the hands instead of the feet,” she says. “I always encourage my students to begin by practicing at a wall, to build the mental strength to eventually attempt hand-standing without support.”
What’s more: Learning how to do a handstand can be quite beneficial for your overall health and wellness. “Plainly speaking, mastering the handstand will provide you with improved balance and stability, and a stronger body overall,” Bacharach explains. “Core and upper body strength are the primary main focus, but over time this move will also strengthen hamstrings, spine, thighs, and hips—it’s basically a full-body workout, and it certainly pays dividends!”
If you’re hoping to train towards doing a handstand, follow these expert-approved tips.
Start with a short, seated meditation
When doing a handstand, it’s a good idea to come from a place of calm. This not only helps you mentally prepare for what you’re about to do physically, but it also helps promote balance. “Whether you listen to a guided meditation on YouTube or just do a few minutes of focused breathing or visualization, becoming calm and grounded will absolutely help set you up for success,” says Ivas.
Fire up your core
When Ivas teaches handstands in her classes, she always leads students through a series of abdominal and back-strengthening sequences. “This helps light up all the major supporting muscles so that once we get to hand-standing, the entire body is ready to go,” she says.
Stretch your hamstrings
“Many people (myself included) struggle with tight hamstrings,” says Ivas. “Without properly warming up this muscle group, your pelvis and lower back will have difficulty achieving the proper alignment to balance on your hands.” She recommends stretching before attempting any major physical move, especially a handstand.
Work on cartwheels and/or somersaults
“Becoming more proficient in cartwheels (left and right) will allow you to land more safely and elegantly when you lose balance,” says Bacharach. “Rather than crumple to a heap on the floor or slam your back on the mat when you teeter and wobble around, you can condition and train yourself to make your falls more graceful and safe.”
Maintain good form
This is essential. “Moves and practice rituals may differ, but one thing which should remain consistent is your form,” Bacharach says. “Good form will help you tremendously in the short and long run, and this is true to any physical exercise, but certainly to this one which requires so much from the body.”
Don’t be discouraged
It might take you longer to learn how to do a handstand than others — and that’s OK! “Everyone is anatomically individual in their strengths and opportunities,” says Ivas. She recommends setting small, realistic goals and practicing regularly. “Take time off when you need to rest and are feeling frustrated,” she says. “I’ve had rough, discouraging practices then the next day, a totally opposite experience.”