Saturday, March 30, 2013

It's Time to Go Upside Down! Handstand Progressions

  Yoga was once a HUGE part of my life.  It basically was my life!  I used to wake up 6 days a week at 4:30 to practice Ashtanga Yoga for 1.5hours.  I also dedicated my life to yoga school and teaching 10+ hours per week in addition to running our gym and teaching kettlebells.   I have now drifted into the world of iron.  My body has gotten stronger and leaner but my flexibility and "stillness" or inner peace has declined dramatically.

  I have decided that I need to add yoga back into my daily routine again.  I lift 5 days a week so finding the time to include yoga can be difficult.  But, if there is a will, there is a way.  One way that I have been able to add yoga back was by integrating some of the "fun" yoga poses into my workouts.  Adding  poses into your workouts not only gives you something to do while resting between sets, but it will also bring the "inner kid" out during your training.  I laugh so much more during my workouts now than ever before. Danny and I even include cartwheels and tumbling into our warm ups!

 The other day I practiced handstands between my barbell bench press sets.  It actually felt amazing during each set and I even pumped out reps with weight that in the past had been challenging for me.  Handstand can be a very scary pose to attempt.  I have been a yoga teacher for 4 years and I can tell you that with practice, patience, and a light heart, anyone can do it.  On that note, I want to share with ya'll a few ways to progress into handstand, the benefits of handstand, and how to get into handstand.   Are you ready to see the world from upside down?!  Let's go!

 Progressions:  Practice Downward Facing Dog.  Downward Facing Dog  (Adho Mukha Savasana) is an excellent pose for just about everyone.  I have all of my kettlebell and weight lifting clients practice this pose because it basically stretches all the areas we work (posterior chain) with exercises like swings, presses, pulls, deadlifts, etc.  This pose is also an excellent starting point to begin Handstand.  You will strengthen your upper body, stretch your hamstrings, improve shoulder stability, and strengthen your wrists.

  OK, take a deep breath and move your yoga mat to a wall!  If you have a fear of falling, I recommend bringing a few pillows for soft landing.  The pillows will act a safety net and boost your confidence to go up.   You want to be about forearm distance from the wall.

 The one thing to keep in mind while learning inversion poses like handstand is that its all about physics.  Your hips are your center point.  Falling a few times is just fine.   You are just working on finding your balance point.  Once your get your hips lined up with your shoulders you will feel more stable.  Place your hands about shoulder width. Ground down through your fingers and cup the floor with wide, open palms.  Plant your stronger leg between your hands, then step the other one back (kind of like the starting position of a sprint).

 Place all of your weight into the leading leg so that the back leg feels light. Look at the wall not at your feet! As you shift your weight into your front leg, slowly lift your back leg up. I try to teach my clients and students to not donkey kick their way up. At first though, we all donkey kick!! Once the back leg comes up the front leg will follow.

  Allow your feet to rest on the wall.  Stay here for awhile and practice getting used to being upside down with both feet on the wall.  After you build confidence you can then start "scissoring" your legs by alternating one leg at a time off of the wall.   The leg on the wall can be slightly bent.  However, the leg off the wall should be straight.   This is where you can start playing with that hip positioning I mentioned earlier.  Keep looking forward at the wall and try to draw your hips over your shoulders.

If you over extend  your hips then you will create a big arch in your back, which is what you don't want.  If you experience that "C" shape in your back or if you look like a banana, practice tightening your abs.  This will help you to stack and balance your body properly.  Continue to stay grounded in your hands and keep pushing away from the floor.  If you fall down, its OK!  Just take a few deep breaths and try again.  I recommend a spotter so you can stay upside down longer with the extra support. They can also give you feedback, as often times it can be difficult to have that body awareness when we are in an inversion.  So get to it!!

  Handstands will help your balance, strengthen your upper body and core, increase energy, improve blood circulation, and feels effing amazing!  I also tend to feel surprisingly more balanced after them than when I don't do them.  Weird, huh?  If you are interested in reading more about the benefits of yoga and strength training, specifically kettlebells, read my article, "The Synergistic Power of Yoga and Kettlebells."   I am a firm believer in the beautiful power yoga and strength training can do for someones mind, body, and soul.



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