In tips for teachers

Spring into Spring!

Flowers are blooming, sprouts are sprouting, the sun is out in Vancouver, which means that it’s time to do handstand!

Inversions are asana of marvelous integration, asking us to stabilize our mobile shoulder joints and connect all of our moving pieces together – no small task while we’re all topsy turvy.  The opportunity to explore ourselves in an unfamiliar orientation lets us experience our cells, our blood, our organs and muscles in a new way.   We literally get to turn our world upside down.


Physically, inverting give the blood and lymph in our legs the opportunity to race back heartwards via the force of gravity.  Our organs move and settle in a different orientation.  Blood moves into our brain and offers these vital tissues an oxygen bath.  The upper body gets a fantastic work out.  And psychologically, we practice courage and a sense of play by moving into the unknown.


There are many different kinds of inversions.  Downward Facing Dog and Forward Fold are great “light” inversions that we practice all the time.   (In a “light inversion,” the head is below the heart, but the rest of the body and the blood column in the legs isn’t adding any additional pressure.)   To do a “full” inversion, the entire weight of the body is transmitted and supported through the shoulder girdle rather than the pelvis and we bring our legs over our head.


Before inverting, there are a couple of sensible precautions to keep in mind.  As we will be increasing the amount of the fluid in the brain, active inversions should not be practiced if you’re experiencing high blood pressure or have a history of stroke.  If you’ve had recent eye surgery or have glaucoma, raising the pressure in the eye is also not recommended. A more passive inversion – like legs up the wall – is a great alternative that imparts lots of juicy inversion benefits while keeping the head and heart at the same level.


Are you ready to invert?


Our shoulder girdle is a marvelous, mobile joint that allows us to reach out through our arms and experience the world.  However, it’s only attached to our skeleton in one little place: right between your collarbone and your sternum!  This lack of bony attachment means that the support of the shoulder girdle comes from the muscular stability around the joint and from the muscles of the chest and back.   If we’re going to fully invert, then we need to ensure that we have enough integrity here to support our body.  Additionally, we have to get our arms all the way overhead by our ears without losing the connection to our core, which requires a good bit of shoulder flexibility.


To find out if you’re ready to do handstand, investigate the following poses as a warm up:

  • Plank: focus on stabilizing the shoulder blades onto your back as you lift your lower ribs up and into your body.  Hold for one minute.  Repeat.
  • Downward Facing Dog: bring your arms in line with your ears without collapsing the ribs towards the floor or letting the upper arm bones wing out.  Straighten your arms fully.  Continue to lift through your back ribs as you draw your shoulder blades slightly towards each other.   The shoulder blades and front ribs hug into the center line of the body, connecting the back and front body towards your center.
  • Dolphin:  (Downward Facing Dog on your forearms, with your hands interlaced.)  Walk your feet towards your shoulders without collapsing the ribcage down or towards your hands.  Press the elbows forward and down to lengthen the back of the arms and draw the shoulder blades into the back body.  Stretch the hips up and back.
  • Puppy Dog (Warrior III at the wall): Place your hands at your hip level on the wall, then walk your feet back until your hips are over your ankles and your body forms an inverted “L”.  Bring your feet together, hug your midline.  Keeping your hips level and your arms straight, lift one leg slowly up behind you.  Pause, check to see that the toes of your lifted leg are pointing straight down and draw your opposite hip back.  Then, continue to lift from your inner thigh until the leg is in line with your body.  Draw the bottom ribs and core into the body as you press into your hands and firm the outer arms in.  Hug the thighs and arms towards each other, and firm your outer hips in.  Keeping all the outer parts of your body connecting into the center, stretch from the core of your pelvis out through all four limbs.

If these poses are going well, then it’s time to move onto handstand.


How to do Handstand:

Stage I:

  • Come into Downward Facing Dog, placing your hands about a foot away from the wall.  Place the hands outer shoulder distance apart, spread the fingers wide, and press through the four corners of each hand.
  • Walk your feet up to your hands about halfway until your shoulders are over your wrists.
  • Lift through your back ribs as you hug the shoulder blades closer to each other (here’s the muscular engagement to keep your shoulder girdle strong and stable)
  • Lift one leg up – just like you did for Puppy Dog.
  • Hug the inner thighs in and lift the leg higher as you press through your hands vigorously
  • Stay here for 3-5 breaths, then change sides.
  • Child’s pose or sit on your heels.

Stage 2:

  • Continuing from Stage 1, keep the hips lifting up and back as you bend your standing leg.  Keeping the lifted leg strong, straight, and neutral, now begin to take small controlled hops.  Press strongly through your hands so that your arms remain straight.  The back, lifted leg is like a rudder: keep it straight and strong.
  • Change sides.
  • Child’s pose or sit on your heels.

Stage 3:

  • Once both legs are up at the wall, immediately hug them strongly together
  • Press through your hands vigorously as you stretch up through your heels.
  • Roll the inner upper thighs to the wall as you lengthen your sitting bones up to your heels.
  • Come down one leg at a time.
  • Child’s pose or sit on your heels.


Most importantly, after doing handstand, take the time to absorb what you feel.

In child’s pose or seated on your heels, close your eyes and feel the rush of blood and life force that is coursing through your body.   Take several deep, smooth breaths.


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