Yoga Handstand Alternatives and Preparations

Written with Sarah Williams

Yoga handstand takes consistent practice and discipline. It is also a difficult pose that perhaps is not for everybody, or not for everybody all the time in all class circumstances. To meet that reality with kindness and practicality, here are some alternatives and options to yoga handstand that you can use in your practice or teaching. These alternatives prioritise different components of yoga handstand and the skills necessary to execute it.  Vary them based on your individual requirements or the theme of the class. This is not an exhaustive list. Use it to inspire your continued exploration.

Why you might use this list

  • You want to explore many paths towards handstand
  • You don’t feel like practising handstand
  • It is difficult for you to bear weight in your hands
  • There are medical reasons why you should not go upside down

Handstand Prep: Invert with more support

An inversion simply means your head is below your heart. If we remember this simple prerequisite, we can take some of the pressure off of ourselves to have to achieve it in a certain way. The postures below are not handstand but are also inversions that include differing levels of support. Use these postures or find others that get the head below the heart and help acclimate to being upside-down with less of a strength demand.

  1. L -shape at the wall with and without one leg up
  2. Standing wide-legged forward fold with brick, block, or bolster under head for support
  3. Down Dog with bolster under head for support
  4. Legs-up-the-wall pose with bolster underneath pelvis
  5. Supported Bridge with legs lifted straight up
L-Shape at wall
L-shape with one leg lifted

Handstand Prep: Lower body mobility & straight leg hip flexion

These postures and drills will help you develop the lower body flexibility and strength that is required to enter into yoga handstand. Most of the time we are hopping up from a standing split, so learn to do it well!

  1. Standing split without rounding spine (can lift on to ball of foot or even toes of standing leg)
  2. Warrior Three at the wall facing in with hands on wall and out with foot on wall and hands on bricks
  3. Warrior Three in the centre of the room
  4. Reclined Strap to foot pose/ Supta Padangustahasana with and without strap
  5. Extended Hand to big toe pose/Uttitha hasta padangusthasana with and without holding the foot and an optional arm reach
Try not holding the foot and reaching the arms to develop the standing split and hopping shape in a different orientation to gravity
Standing split without rounding spine
Warrior Three with foot on wall

Handstand Prep: Upper Body Mobility – Shoulder flexion

These postures and drills will help you develop the upper body flexibility and strength required to practise yoga handstand. Mostly this means the capacity to bear weight in full shoulder flexion.

  1. Long sustained downward-facing dog pose
  2. Hold brick between palms (not fingers), squeeze, raise from parallel to ground as far up as possible without back extension
  3. Dancer Pose with arms overhead with strap. Can stay at wall for stability
  4. Puppy Dog stretch, making sure to keep arms actively pushing to make sure you can bear weight.
  5. Gomukhasana arms shoulder stretch. Try exploring actively without joining hands or touching back to make sure you develop strength and flexibility together.
Gomukhasana arm stretch explored actively
Develop strength in a sustained downward-facing dog pose
Keep strength and push in hands and arms as you practice puppy dog pose

Handstand Prep: Core Stability

These postures and drills help you develop the core stability required to find balance in yoga handstand.

  1. Navasana
  2. Plank
  3. Supine Handstand with lift of arms and legs (option to hold brick between hands)
  4. Ardha Navasana with arms overhead reaching back 
  5. Alternate arm and leg lift from all-fours position. Avoid spinal extension.
Navasana
Plank
Supine handstand holding brick
Ardha Navasana reaching arms overhead
Alternate arm and leg lift
Work your wrist extension in multiple shapes, including full shoulder flexion

Handstand Prep: Wrist mobility

This drill will help you achieve the required wrist extension for yoga handstand holds. It’s not an easy demand for the wrist to go to a 90-degree angle and bear weight, so work your way up to it.

  1. Work active wrist extension (don’t passively stretch) in full shoulder flexion and any other shapes. Can also press hands against a wall to make the shape and add more force. 
  2. Eventually this can also mean holding a handstand at the wall focusing on upper-body weight bearing and not balance

 

Handstand Prep: Just make the shape!

These postures help you feel the shape of yoga handstand in different relationships to gravity.

  1. Make the shape of handstand while lying down on back. Can press palms into wall.
  2. Make the shape of handstand while standing and holding bricks (brick can be between thighs, between hands, between feet).
  3. Lie on stomach with arms reaching forward on floor. Practice neutral pelvis and lengthening through limbs.
Prone Handstand
Free Video on Yoga Sequencing 

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