In the yoga classes I tend to frequent, we do a lot of core work. I mean a LOT of core work. In one class recently with Brock Cahill at Yogis Anonymous, we did 108 navasana v-ups. Ouch. In a good way of course… ;)
Now you often hear about how it’s important to have a strong core. This helps prevent back injury, improves alignment,and helps you find strength to do arm balances. Besides that it just looks good. Let’s be honest lol. It’s ok to have not all spiritual reasons for doing yoga. :)
In a recent class with Krista Cahill, she spoke about the idea of moving from your core in order to stay integrated while finding your handstand. The cue really helped me to find more strength and stability in the pose. Most of us try to press out of our shoulders to lift and muscle ourselves into the pose (perhaps we focus on the ends and not the means). This means we end up with our shoulders by our ears (never a good look) and it leads to very sore trapeszius muscles (the muscles where your neck connects to your torso). When you do this to find a handstand, you are not moving in an integrated way as your shoulders are pushing up and out of the sockets. Over time, this can lead to very bad shoulder injuries.
Instead, when you start your handstand, you want to think about finding your center and integrating before you lift up. Start out in a standing split with your hands flat and shoulder distance about one foot forward of your standing leg and come onto the ball of your standing foot. Press into the finger tips to activate hasta bandha, and imagine you are isometrically drawing the forearms towards each other to fire up your hands and arms and create a solid base. Draw the shoulders into the sockets, rotate the biceps forward and triceps backwards, and broaden across your collar bones. These actions will help keep your shoulders integrated and in their sockets. Drawing the shoulder blades down the back and spreading them helps to engage your lattissimus dorsi muscles, which will help the traps relax more. Pressing the bottoms of the shoulder blades towards the heart help you find the slight bit of backbend in the pose. Draw your navel towards your spine and try to find a feeling of crow in your core. Remember, this is all before you’ve even lifted your standing foot off the ground! Now you’re starting with a firm foundation so you can move in an integrated manner. You can just stay here and practice the alignment to build strength if you are new to handstand.
From this integrated position, you’ll start to slightly lean into the pose. Your shoulders will probably move further forward than your wrists. This allows your heart to move forward (and your center of gravity). Check in that you are still integrated in the shoulders. Then you can keep leaning and slowly lift into the pose, stacking your hips over your shoulders and wrists, while maintaining your shoulder integration. It can be easy to backbend too much here, which is where moving from your core comes in. Imagine like you are drawing your bottom rib closer to your hips points and inner spiral the thighs to keep the core engaged. Imagine like you are drawing your front body (right around your solar plexus or third chakra) towards your back body to help engage the core as well (thank you to Annie Carpenter for that tip). Ta da! You’re in handstand! :) Or maybe you’re just working towards the feeling of having more weight in your hands than the feet. Give yourself permission to just maintain the alignment without worrying about the result. Sometimes it can be frustrating because it takes more practice and work to move into it correctly. However, the end result is a much more stable posture.
In real life as well as yoga, you want to maintain your alignment to your personal principles and values and move from your center in order to find more stability and ease. Sometimes it seems easier to just get to where we want to be as quickly as possible, but if you do not move from your center with integrity, bad things often seem to follow.
Now go do some more core work :)