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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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.



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.


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.


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


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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Yoga Pose Notebook: Practice & Teach Tittibhasana (Firefly)

Alignment for Tittibhasana | Jason Crandell Vinyasa Yoga Method | JasonYoga.com
{illustrations by MCKIBILLO}


There are 3 ways to use this blog:
1. You can simply practice Tittibhasana 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 for Tittibhasana (Firefly Pose) 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 Certification Program or join me online for my Sequencing and Anatomy Online Courses


The key to doing Tittibhasana is being light, strong (everywhere), flexible (everywhere), balanced—and, if possible—young (twenties would be nice). If this sounds like you, stop reading and go do the pose, OK?

If, however, you can’t relate to the above characterisitics—and I certainly can’t—the pose is pretty tough. It’s doable, but skillful preparation is paramount. Also, Tittibhasana is a balancing pose and it works a little bit like an old-fashioned scale. You’ll need to let the weight of your pelvis drop down and back behind your elbows to help you lift your feet off the floor. Let’s take a closer look:


It’s a good idea to open the hamstrings, adductors, and outer hips before launching into Tittibhasana. It’s also wise to do a few core strengthening poses to warm-up your hip flexors and abdominals. (Read Part II if you want specific suggestions, otherwise, I’ll leave the preparations to your choosing.)


1. Take your feet a little wider than your hips and rotate your feet slightly outward.
2. Forward bend and tuck your shoulders behind your knees. With you hands, hold the back of your ankles.
3. Take a couple of breaths, folding more deeply and easing your shoulders behind your knees. Be mindful of your lower back and sacrum. If they’re uncomfortable with the forward bend, come out of the pose and work on your hamstrings, inner legs, and outer hips in more accomodating postures.
4, Place your hands behind your heels with your fingers pointing forward. Look at your thumbs and make sure they’re not in a crazy position (you’ll know what I mean when you do it). If your hands don’t come all the way to the floor, they may in the next step. If they don’t come to floor in the next step, you can put a wedge or folded mat under the heel of your palm. If you need something higher, it means that your hips aren’t quite ready for this pose—stick to leg-opening postures for now.
5. With your fingers facing forward, bend your knees and your elbows, sitting back so the weight of your pelvis is on your arms.
6. Squeeze your legs against your arms, lift your feet, and straighten your legs. Focus on reaching your legs straight forward while you squeeze the inner legs toward the midline to minimize how wide your legs go.
7. Now that you’re in the pose, work on the key teaching points in the infographic above!
8. If you’ve crashed and burned, get up and give it another go. If the pose feels impossible, content yourself with a few more weeks or months of preparations.


If you still need to build strength for the pose, practice a combination of core, shoulder, and arm strengtheners. Be consistent with Paripurna Navasana (Full Boat), Ardha Navasana (Half Boat), Plank, Chaturanga Dandasana (Four-Limbed Staff Pose), and Salabhasana (Locust). If you need more flexibility for Tittibhasana my three favorite preparations are Lizard Lunge, Prasarita Padottanasana (Wide-Legged Standing Forward Bend) and Upavistha Konasana (Wide-legged Seated Forward Bend). Bakasana (Crane) is also a great pose to practice if you’re unable to do Tittibhasana.


The short answer is your core, shoulders, and arms. Here’s a more detailed look:

Your abdominals and pelvic floor
All of your abdominal muscles engage to lift your pelvis and support the weight of your center. Most notably, your transverse abdominus draws your navel toward your spine and your rectus abdominus helps to maintain the slight flexion (rounding) of your spine.

Your hip flexors
Your psoas and rectus femoris fire strongly to flex your hips, keep your legs lifted and straighten your legs.

Your inner legs
One of the most challenging components of Tittibhasana is the dynamics of your inner-legs, or adductor muscles: You have to strongly engage the adductors to keep your legs from sliding down your arms. Ath the same time, the pose requires a deep stretch in these muscles.

Your shoulders
Tittibhasana works all of your shoulder muscles, specifically:
The rotator cuff muscles which help stabilize your arms.
The anterior deltoids and pectoralis which help you lift your body in the pose.
The scapular muscles (especially the serratus anterior) which help you broaden your upper back in the pose.

Your arms
Your triceps are working harder than any other muscle group in your arms here. Your forearm muscles also gain strength in this posture.


Your hamstrings
Tittibhasana stretches all three hamstrings—especially the two medial hamstrings, your semitendinosus and semimebranosus.

Your adductors
All of your adductors engage, which enables you to both hug your legs against your arms and straighten your legs. The gracilis and adductor magnus, due to their functional relationship with the hamstrings, get the greatest stretch in this family of muscles.

Your outer hips
You may not feel your outer hips stretching nearly as much as your hamstrings or adductors. However, your gluteus maximus, piriformis, and other external rotators are working eccentrically. This means you engage them and lengthen at the same time! (The way you do when you lower a weight in a biceps curl.)

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


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 Anatomy Online Course
The Art of Yoga Sequencing Online Course
500-Hour Training in San Francisco (2016)

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Yoga Testimonials: Hear What Jason’s Students are Saying

Thinking about doing a teacher training with Jason? We’ve collected just a handful of student testimonials from Jason’s most recent teacher training program in the video below.

If you prefer reading to video, you can also find even more helpful testimonials about Jason and his trainings here.

Jason Crandell Yoga Method Student Testimonials from Jason Crandell on Vimeo.

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Episode 7: Taylor Harkness – Being True to You

Hello and Happy Summer!

Have you met or taken class online with Taylor Harkness yet? You should! Taylor (@tjhark on Instagram) is warm and heartful with an infectious charm. He’s young (my first millennial on the podcast) but he is truly a wise, old soul. Taylor discovered yoga while he was working as a paramedic. He’d always planned on going to medical school, but the trauma that he witnessed in the ambulance started having a deleterious affect on his health. When he started yoga he took to it, “like a moth to a flame.”

We talked about:

* His transition from the ambulance to the yoga mat
* Balancing the duality of the yoga tradition while leaving room for evolution and change
* How he built his social media following and how he has since changed his approach
* What it’s like to be an atheist and be a yoga teacher
* What separates his yoga practice from his fitness endeavors
* His new project, The Yoga Network, which is a supportive community for yoga teachers

“When you embrace who you are, it opens all these doors. There’s no one right, set way of doing something as long as you’re growing.” — Taylor Harkness

Subscribe via: iTunes | Acast | RSS

Taylor’s Web site
The Yoga Network

David Szesztay — Cheese
Velella Velella — 3 to the 6
Podington Bear — Wolf

If you like what you hear, please feel free to write a review on iTunes! If you share your URL, I’ll be able to get back to you and say thanks. You can also follow me on Twitter @yogalandpodcast.

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Episode 3: Jason Crandell on Navigating Life as a Modern Yoga Teacher

Hello peoples!

In this week’s episode, you’ll get to hear the dulcet tones of my husband and I talking yoga. We had a great time and we covered everything from the concept of “yogalebrity,” to common misconceptions created by social media to navigating the life and work as a new yoga teacher.

Plus! Jason created some bonus content related to the episode, 5 Tips to Support New Yoga Teachers.

Enjoy it and let us know what you think in the comments. AND, if you have questions related to this episode that you’d like to ask Jason, please follow us on Twitter and tweet at us @yogalandpodcast.

“My concern is that we may think that social media is a more accurate reflection of an actual life than it is. It’s not a reflection of an actual life. It’s a very orchestrated reflection of someone’s life. We can’t expect our lives to be a reflection of this thing that is a curated, only partially real phenomenon.”
— Jason Crandell

Subscribe via: iTunes | Acast | RSS

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