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Episode 96: Jason’s Ideas for Overcoming Fear & Other Handstand Obstacles

Overcoming Fear of Handstand | Jason Crandell quote | yoga podcast

This episode is in response to the overwhelming number of questions we’ve gotten about Handstand. It’s full of yoga Handstand tips.

We explore the logistical side — what are the best prep poses for Handstand? And the emotional side, i.e., how do I cope with my fear of Handstand?  You’ll also learn:

* The vital triad of forearm, finger, and shoulder strength for Handstand

* Helpful prep poses yoga poses to help you build the strength for the pose

* The importance of understanding scapular motion when learning Handstand

* The muscles and actions that people neglect when they’re trying to learn Handstand

* How to manage and cope with your fear of Handstand

* Alternative poses that offer the same benefits as Handstand

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RECOMMENDED AND RELATED LINKS

Pose Notebook: How to Practice and Teach Handstand
Peak Pose Sequence: Handstand
Four Creative Core Poses
A 7-Step Formula to Facing Your Fears (This post can be applied to fear of Handstand, too)

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Summer Series! Ep 6: A Strategic Approach to Arm Balances and Inversions

A bonus episode for you this week! Jason and I talk about his new online course on yogaglo.com, The Ultimate Guide to Teaching Arm Balances & Inversions.

There’s a lot packed into this episode: Jason shares his system for teaching these poses, how he sees both arm balances and inversions as “clusters of poses” — so that you’re learning a whole family of poses — e.g., the Bakasana Family — instead of just one pose. He also talks about how the course can help teachers feel more confident and skillful teaching these poses.

Subscribe via: iTunes | Acast | RSS

RECOMMENDED & RELATED LINKS
The Ultimate Guide to Arm Balances & Inversions

WRITE A REVIEW
If you like the podcast, please leave a review or rating on iTunes! It makes it easier for others to find the podcast. If you don’t know how to leave a review, here are some step by step instructions. Woohoo! So easy!

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My 5 Favorite Yoga Postures (And Why I Love Them)

Jason Crandell in Pigeon Pose | 5 Favorite Yoga Poses

Common wisdom tells you to work daily on the yoga poses that bring up resistance and challenge you. Personally, I’m okay with this sentiment—after all, there’s plenty of value in exploring the edges of your comfort zone. As a practitioner and teacher, though, I tend to emphasize the opposite—I choose to indulge the postures that I love with egregious frequency. I encourage the teachers that I train to do the exact same thing. We love the poses that we love for good reasons: they awaken us, they ground us, they soothe us, they challenge us, and they nurture our mind’s ability to focus and settle down.

These five yoga poses come up time and time again in my classes because I’m shamelessly enthusiastic about them.

5 Favorite Yoga Poses

Urdhva Dhanurasana — It Soothes Me

Yep, that’s right, I find Urdhva Dhanurasana deeply soothing. Yes, I’m aware that everyone and their cousin goes on and on about how uplifting and energizing backbends are. But, honestly, my experience is the opposite. A nice, strong Urdhva Dhanurasana (or 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6) actually cuts through whatever narrative my mind is engaged with, focuses my attention, and burns off whatever anxiety I may be experiencing. Urdhva Dhanurasana is never easy for me, but it’s always settling.

Paschimottanasana — It Humbles Me

Paschimottanasana bums me out. I’m always prattling on about integrity of movement being more important than range of movement. Even though I firmly believe this, the first thought that runs through my head when I practice Paschimottanasana is, “Ugh. Is this really as far as I can go today?” This pose continues to reveal how judgmental I can be toward myself and provides me with the opportunity to let go.

See also A Smart Flow for Tight Hamstrings

Pigeon Pose — It Grounds Me

The bittersweet release of Pigeon Pose is undeniable. While the big, tension-busting stretch in the outer hips steals the show, the posture has another component that helps produce a grounding effect: The vast majority of your body is laying on the floor when you do the posture. Sure, it’s intense for many, but the intensity is always local. The majority of the body has the opportunity to drop, release, and let go into the floor.

Handstand — It Balances Me

There’s a saying in England that black tea wakes you up if you’re tired and quiets you if you’re unsettled. My experience of Handstand is the exact same. If I need an uplifting boost of energy, practicing Handstand does the trick. If, on the other hand, I’m overstimulated, a minute or two in Handstand grounds my energy and rebalances my mood.

See also How to Practice and Teach Handstand

Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana – It Unwinds Me

Oh, the poor side body. It can be challenging to access and rarely gets treated to elongation in day-to-day life. Even in asana practice the side-body rarely gets the TLC that the hips, shoulders, core and spine receive. Thankfully, Parivrtta Janu sirsasana digs deeply into the side-body and wrings out tension. When I do this pose I literally have to will myself to get out of it. I want to stay there, nestle in, and take a nap.

I’d love to hear from you. What postures are keeping you calm, grounded, and sane these days?

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Yoga Pose Notebook: Avoid the Banana in Forearm Balance

Cheat Sheet for Forearm Balance - Pincha Mayurasana | Jason Crandell Vinyasa Yoga Method | JasonYoga.com
{illustrations by MCKIBILLO}

HOW TO USE THIS PINCHA MAYURASANA BLOG

There are 3 ways to use this blog about Pincha Mayurasana or Forearm Balance:

1. You can simply practice Foream Balance using the illustration above.
2. You can learn how to get into the posture by reading the “How To” Section below.
3. Or you can geek out on the sequencing  and anatomy related to the pose, by skipping down to Part II of this column.

Don’t forget to pass this along to your students and colleagues!

If you want to learn more, join me live at my 500-hr Teacher Training Certification Program or join me for my Sequencing and Anatomy Online Yoga Courses.

KEYS TO FOREARM BALANCE (PINCHA MAYURASANA)

Forearm Balance’s similarities to Handstand are striking, In fact, the two postures are identical from the feet all the way through the elbows. The point of differentiation between the postures is that you bend your elbows and place them on the floor in forearm balance and you keep them straight in Handstand. This is obvious to even the most casual observer. What is not obvious is the chain reaction that bending the elbows creates in the shoulders, core, spine, pelvis, and legs. Let’s look at this chain reaction and learn how to work with it.

One quick tip about Forearm Balance (Pincha Mayurasana)

When you bend your elbows in and place them on the floor, it becomes much harder to flex your shoulder joints. This means that most students feel tighter and more restricted in their shoulders in Forearm Balance compared to Handstand. Yes, Forearm Balance has certain advantages that Handstand doesn’t. However, for many students it can be very challenging to get the upper-arms, shoulders, and ribs verticaly stacked in Forearm Balance. When the shoulders don’t flex easily, the core and spine compensate by moving too far into extension. Here’s another way of saying the same thing: when the shoulders don’t flex enough, the spine and core compensate by moving too far into a backbend – so your body is in a banana shape.

So, instead of just focusing on strengthening your core, my tip for this pose is to focus on creating more shoulder flexion by doing three things:

1. Stretch your triceps and lats

2. Stretching your rhomboids and traps

3. Stretching your pecs and anterior deltoids

This sounds like a lot, but it’s not rocket science. The warm-up below lists the postures that work best.

WARM UP

It’s a good idea to warm up your entire body with a few Sun Salutations before you focus on preparing your shoulders. Any kind of salutation will do the trick. Once you’ve done a few rounds, sit on the floor in Sukhasana or Vajrasana. Do the following four shoulder openers:

1) Half-Down Dog (hands on a wall or on a chair), Dolphin Pose, and Gomukhasana to stretch your triceps and lats
2) Cat Pose and Garudasana to stretch your rhomboids and traps
3) Fingers interlaced and arms straight behind your back to stretch your chest and the front of your shoulders.

Handstand is also great all around preparation if it’s part of your repertoire.

HOW TO DO FOREARM BALANCE (PINCHA MAYURASANA)

As with other inversions, it’s helpful to learn this pose at the wall and with the help of a skilled teacher. If you’re more experienced and able to work on balancing in the posture, you’re welcome to follow the same instructions while in the milddle of the room.

1. Set up facing a wall.

2. Place your forearms on the floor with your elbows shoulder-width apart. Your forearms should be parallel to each other and your palms should face down. Adjust your distance from the wall so that the wall is just barely beyond the reach of your fingertips.

3. There are many different ways to use a block in this pose and I’m an advocate for all of them! For the purpose of this blog, I’m simply going to suggest that you place a block between your hands.

More specifically, look at your fingers and place the block so that your index fingers touch the sides of the block and your thumbs touch the bottom of the block.

4. Bring your shoulders forward so that they’re direclty above your elbows. Step one foot half way to your elbow and bend your knee. Choose whichever leg feels the most natural.

5. Root down through the base of each finger and thumb.

6. Look at the floor in between your hands. Take a slow, deep breath. Don’t freak out.

7. As you exhale, bend the knee that you brought forward more deeply and strongly push the floor away. As this leg jumps, simultaneously swing the back leg toward the wall. Keep the knee of your “swinging” leg straight.

8. As one leg swings toward the wall and the other leg jumps, draw your navel toward your spine to recruit your core muscles and create greater lift.

9. You need to use enough strength and momentum to get your hips over your shoulders. Once your hips are above your shoulders, your “swinging” leg will make it to the wall and stay there. At this point, you can bring your second leg (your “jumping” leg to the wall).

10. Now that you’re in the pose, you can refine it by using the infographic above!

11. Hold the pose for a few seconds before slowly lowering one of your feet toward the floor. As you lower one leg, the second will follow shortly thereafter.

12. Spend a few moments in Child’s Pose or Standing Forward Bend.

IF I CAN’T DO FOREARM BALANCE YET, WHAT SHOULD I DO INSTEAD?

Pincha Mayurasan or Forearm Balance is not an easy posture. If you struggle with it, you’re in good company. Don’t beat yourself up. Respect yourself and remember that this is a practice. The following tips will help you make progress:

1. Focus on building shoulder strength and confidence by doing Half Dolphin Pose and Half-Handstand. You do this by standing about a legs’ distance away from the wall, placing your arms into position and walking your feet up the wall to hip height. (The first time you do it, recruit the help of a friend or a teacher.)

2. Focus on building core strength by practicing Forearm Plank, Navasana, and Ardha Navasana.

3. It’s easy to forget that it takes practice to coordinate the action of your legs and core as you jump into Handstand. So, one option is to simply focus on the action of jumping into Handstand without actually getting all the way there. Repeat the process of swinging and jumping several times to build your understanding and coordination of this process.

PART II: ANATOMY AND SEQUENCING FOR FOREARM BALANCE (PINCHA MAYURASANA)

WHICH MUSCLES DOES FOREARM BALANCE STRENGTHEN?

Your Legs
All the leg muscles are active in Forearm Balance. That said, the most notable exertion comes from the muscles that line your inner-legs, the adductors. Engaging these muscles not only engages the legs, it recruits your core, which creates better control in the pose. Your quadriceps are working to keep your knees straight. You’re also engaging your hamstrings to help your hips stay extended.

Your Core
Your core’s primary job in Forearm Balance is to keep your pelvis, ribs, and lower spine aligned and prevent hyperextension in your lower back. Remember, this is more difficult if your core and spine are forced to compensate for limited shoulder mobility. In particular, you’re engaging your iliopsoas to help your legs stay vertically aligned and firing your transversus abdominus and obliques help keep your lower back from hyperextending.

Your Spinal Muscles
Your erector spinae are working to help maintain the vertical position of your spine and balance the muscular forces of your core.

Your Shoulders and Arms
While your legs, core, and spine work to maintain the position of your entire body, your shoulders and arms have the greatest amount of work in Forearm Balance. The four muscles of your rotator cuff are externally rotating and stabilizing your upper arm. Your deltoids and pecs are helping to flex your shoulders and keep your elbows from splaying. Your biceps and triceps are working to hold the position of your arms and support the weight of your body.

WHICH MUSCLES DOES FOREARM BALANCE STRETCH?
Your Latissimus Dorsi
The lats are getting the most significant stretch of the entire body in this posture. If the lats are tight it’s much more likely that your elbows will splay. Some students may also feel a stretch in their rhomboids and middle fibers of their trapezius.

YOGA SEQUENCING FOR FOREARM BALANCE
For a fully-illustrated, 16-pose sequence for Forearm Balance click here.

WHERE DO I LEARN MORE ABOUT YOGA ANATOMY, YOGA SEQUENCING, AND YOGA TEACHER TRAININGS?

My Live and Online Yoga Teacher Trainings.

Essential Anatomy E-Course
The Art of Yoga Sequencing E-Course
500-Hour Training in San Francisco (2016)
100-Hour Training in London (2016)

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Pose Notebook: How to Practice and Teach Handstand

How to Teach Handstand | Handstand Tips | Jason Crandell Yoga Method
{illustration by MCKIBILLO}

Before we get to the post, a quick, shameless plug for my upcoming trainings. You can join me live at my 500-Hour Yoga Teacher Training in San Francisco, London, or Hong Kong. I also have three separate online teacher trainings, focusing on arm balances & inversions, sequencing, or anatomy.

HOW TO USE THIS BLOG

There are 3 ways to use this blog:
1. You can simply practice Handstand using the illustration above.
2. You can learn the steps get into the posture in the “How To” section.
3. Or you can geek out on the sequencing and anatomy details, by skipping down to Part II.

Don’t forget to pass this along to your students and colleagues!

If you want to learn more, join me live at my 500-hour Yoga Teacher Training Certification Program or join me online for my Online Yoga Teacher Training Courses in Anatomy or Sequencing.

GETTING INTO HANDSTAND

Handstand is the darling of the social media world for good reason. The posture conveys strength, focus, and all-around physical aptitude. It also makes for a good photo opp in a bustling city center, or on a pristine beach, or anywhere else you want to capture a “yoga moment” and ensure your participation in today’s yoga zeitgeist.

Of course, Handstand is not just a photo opp or a boastful trend. It’s a time-honored, established inversion that’s taught in multiple lineages. Whether you’re proficient in this pose or just starting your inversion journey, Handstand requires 100 percent of your attention while you’re practicing it. You may find that your attention wanders to your “to do” list in Savsasana or sometimes you’re not fully focused in Warrior II. But, have you ever thought about what kind of sandwich you’re going to have for lunch while working on Handstand? No, you haven’t. You’re fully present and engaged with the present moment when you’re practicing Handstand. That’s yoga.

WARM UP

If you’re a seasoned practitioner and Handstand is a regular part of your practice, you will need very little warm-up. In fact, Handstand is a great first or second pose in a sequence for students who are proficient in this posture. If you’re a little newer to this posture or need a slower build-up, you can prepare for Handstand with shoulder openers that open your upper back and spread your shoulder blades like Garudasana and Cat Pose. Shoulder openers that stretch your triceps and lats, such as Half-Dog (also called “Puppy Pose”) and Gomukhasana are great. Since Navasana, Ardha Navasana, and Forearm Plank engage your core, they are also good preparations for Handstand.

HOW TO TEACH HANDSTAND + HANDSTAND PRACTICE TIPS

Practitioners need to learn this pose at the wall, often with the help of a skilled teacher, long before they indulge their “press into Handstand in the middle of the room” fantasy. I’m going to write an article on pressing into Handstand at a later date, but here I will assume that you’re working at the wall.

1. Set up in Downward Facing Dog with your hands six inches from a wall.
2. Step one foot half way to your hands and bend your knee. Choose whichever leg feels the most natural.
3. Bring your shoulders forward so that they’re direclty abover your wrists. Root down through the base of each finger and thumb, straighten your elbows, and slightly externally rotate your upper arms.
4. Look at the floor in between your hands. Take a slow, deep breath. Don’t freak out.
5. As you exhale, bend the knee that you stepped forward more deeply and strongly push the floor away. As this leg jumps, simultaneously swing the other leg toward the wall. Keep the knee of your “swinging” leg straight.
6. As one leg swings toward the wall and the other leg jumps, draw your navel toward your spine to recruit your core muscles and create greater lift.
7. You need to use enough strength and momentum to get your hips over your shoulders. Once your hips are above your shoulders, your “swinging” leg will make it to the wall and stay there. At this point, you can bring your second leg (your “jumping” leg to the wall).
8. Now that you’re in the pose, you can refine it with the instructions on the infographic above!
9. Hold the pose for a few seconds before slowly lowering one of your feet toward the floor. As you lower one leg, the second will follow shortly thereafter.
10. Spend a few moments in Child’s Pose or a standing forward bend.

See also Handstand Sequence

IF I CAN’T DO HANDSTAND YET, WHAT SHOULD I DO INSTEAD?

Well, if you’re in class you can take your pretend bathroom break. Right? But, if you’re struggling with Handstand and you really want to develop this pose, you can work on the following:

1. Focus on building shoulder strength and confidence with Dolphin Pose or Half Handstand with your feet on the wall.
2. Focus on building core strength by practicing Forearm Plank, Navasana, and Ardha Navasana.
3. Repetition is key! It takes practice to get into Handstand. So, one option, is to simply focus on the action of kicking into Handstand without actually getting all the way there. Repeat the process of swinging, kicking, and hopping several times to build your understanding and coordination of this process.

PART II: ANATOMY AND SEQUENCING FOR HANDSTAND

WHICH MUSCLES DOES HANDSTAND STRENGTHEN?

Your legs
If you touch someone’s legs in Handstand, you’ll notice that the leg muscles are firm active in this pose. That said, the most notable exertion comes from the inner leg muscles, the adductors. Engaging these muscles helps both legs work together and access your core, which creates better control in the pose. Your quadriceps are also working to lengthen your legs and keep your knees straight. And your hamstrings engage to help your hips extend.

Your core
Your core’s primary job in Handstand is to keep your pelvis, ribs, and lower spine aligned and prevent hyperextension in your lower back. Specifically: your psoas and illiacus helps your legs stay vertically aligned and your transversus abdominus and obliques help keep your lower back from hyperextending.

Your spinal muscles
Your erector spinae are working to help maintain the vertical position of your spine and balance the muscular forces of your core.

Your shoulders and arms
While your legs, core, and spine work to maintain the position of your entire body, your shoulders and arms have the greatest amount of work in Handstand. Your deltoids have the biggest job since they keep your shoulders flexed. They’re supported by the rotator cuff muscles which help maintain the alignment of the upper arm. Your triceps also have the challenging job of keeping your elbows straight. Your serratus anterior muscles laterally rotate and firm your scapulae against your ribs. Lastly, your forearm and hand muscles work to support balance in the posture.

WHICH MUSCLES DOES HANDSTAND STRETCH?

Your latissimus dorsi
Handstand doesn’t particulary stretch the body. Sure, it stretches one’s sense of themselves, one’s confidence and so on. But, as far as the body is concerned, the lats are really the only muscles that stretch in this pose. And, truthfully, they’re only going to stretch if they’re relatively tight–and, even then, it’s mild.

SEQUENCING FOR HANDSTAND

You can find a fully-illustrated, 16-pose sequence for Handstand here.

WHERE DO I LEARN MORE ABOUT ANATOMY, SEQUENCING, AND TEACHER TRAINING?

I offer both online trainings and live, in-the-flesh ones around the world. Here are a few of the courses that are currently open. (For a full schedule, go to my Schedule page.):

Essential Yoga Anatomy Online Course
The Art of Yoga Sequencing Online Course
500-Hour Yoga Teacher Training

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