A trend sweeping yoga these days is the handstand. Because it is not considered a “traditional” yoga pose, I was initially skeptical of all the hype. It seemed everywhere I turned there was an instagram of some yogi or yogini upside down. But, once my teacher began strengthening me on a path toward handstand, I realized that there’s much more to it than snazzy selfies.
There are numerous mind-body benefits of flipping the body upside down. Here are the ones I have experienced since incorporating adho mukkha vrksasana (handstand) into my yoga practice.
1. Reverse the flow. Getting upside down brings fresh, oxygenated blood to your face & head and enlivens circulation in the legs. This can provide an instant mood & energy boost. It can also help prevent acne, gray hair, wrinkles & varicose veins.
2. See from a new perspective. When we’re upside down, we literally see things upside down. Hardstanding can help us flip our thinking as well, which can lead to more effective problem-solving skills.
3. Know your strength. The first two of these reason apply to other inversions like sirsasana (headstand) or salamba sarvangasana (shoulder stand). But this one is an exclusive to handstands and arm balancing poses. Holding your body weight entirely in your hands is perhaps one of the most empowering experiences. When I hold myself up this way, I know that I can handle anything life throws my way. I don’t need anyone else to take care of me, because I can take care of myself. In a society where we are conditioned to be co-dependent on other people and material objects, the empowering lesson of self-reliance is so important. Learning this has been life-changing for me.
4. Ground. Just like it helps to put our bare feet on the earth every day, so too can it be helpful to ground our hands into the earth as we take flight. Handstands can helps us connect between the planes of sky & earth. Our soles (souls) open to the heavens as we hold mother earth in our hands. For and added bonus: try handstanding in the bare earth; the experience is one-of-a-kind.
5. Play! Many times in life, we take ourselves much too seriously. Our yoga practice can fall victim to this seriousness. Doing playful poses like handstand can help us to release our self-doubt and self-judgment and just have fun.
6. Focus. It can be easy to get lazy in other poses, but in handstand, inattention is not an option. Yoga means “to yoke” or “to unite.” When you handstand, you must fully yoke/unite your body and mind in order to balance and keep everything in check. This helps build your focus in other areas of life off the mat, too.
When we lose the playfulness and let our ego get involved, handstands can become risky and even injurious. It’s important to recognize the limits your body sets in each moment. If you’re feeling weak, shaky, or worn out, it’s time to skip the handstand and take a more restorative pose.
But, during moments when you feel like you could just float off the earth because you’re so full of divine love, light & energy, handstand away!