Inverted yoga poses like headstand, handstand and even shoulderstand can be scary, especially if you have never been upside down before.
To get over the fear, work towards these inverted yoga poses gradually. As a start, use the wall to help support yourself so that you can get comfortably used to being upside down.
Ultimately it would be nice to be able to balance while being upside down. However you can work towards this in stages. If you've never been upside down then the first task is to get used to being upside down. This can be followed by learning to feel your body and control it while being upside down. Then You can then work towards being able to control your balance while upside down.
The following exercises are designed to make getting used to inverted yoga poses simple and suprisingly easy.
One of the first things that you can work on is shoulder stability.
In most inverted yoga poses you are using your shoulders to support the weight of your body, so even before you get upside down, first learn how to activate your shoulders.
For handstand and headstand you can practice spreading your shoulder blades using the serratus anterior muscle. Then learn how to lift your shoulder blades (while keeping them spread) by using the trapezius muscle. These shoulder exercises help you to do both.
For shoulder stand, the weight of your body rests on your shoulder blades and so for this inverted yoga pose first practice retracting the shoulders blades using the rhomboids.
Another alternative for creating shoulder stability is to work from the ground up. With inversions that can mean activating the fingers to stabilize hand and wrist and also activating the elbows to prevent rotation of the arms.
So why go upside down?
In yoga there is the idea of counterposes. These help to bring the body back to a "balanced" state. This can be no less true with inverted yoga poses. You can do these before the inversion or after as I mention below.
Since bound headstand, handstand and forearm stand are all positions in which the arms are in an "over head" position, a good counterpose for the shoulders is an arms behind the back pose. And so you could do
or do a yoga pose like
Note that the most usual counterpose for headstand is shoulderstand.
You could do these counterposes before headstand. In the ashtanga system shoulderstand is done before headstand. In other yoga schools shoulderstand is done after headstand.
Another idea is to rest after doing a challenging inversion. Andrey Lappa suggests sitting upright after inverstions. This can give your chance to "center itself" and it is also a chance for you to notice the after effects of a pose. If you just need to rest then childs pose is also an option, particularly after headstand.
Working towards a yoga inversion like handstand you can start off in downward dog. Once you've gotten used to bearing some of your body weight with your hands and shoulders in downward dog, you can then work towards supporting more of your weight with your arms while doing handstand with your feet on the wall in an L-Shaped handstand. (The beauty of this pose is that the wall can take some of your weight.)
Since the serratus anterior are a key stabilizing muscle for the scapula in postures like downward dog, handstand, headstand and forearm stand, you could develop a sequence of postures that start with you getting used to using your serratus first with the arms not supporting weight and then in poses where the arms support more and more weight.
Now while a lot of yoga teachers may suggest getting your torso vertical and over your hands in this position, since in handstand that's what you are also supposed to do, I'd suggest that instead you find a position where it is easy to support your weight.
Once you are comfortable in L-shaped handstand, then you can work on kicking up into handstand and here again you can work towards kicking up into this inverted yoga pose gradually. You can work at using one leg and then the other and then you can work at using them both together. The nice thing about kicking up is that it makes it relatively easy to get up into this yoga pose. Then you can focus on balancing in handstand.
You then might want to experiment with the double leg jump into handstand. In this action you kick up while keeping your feet together as opposed to scissoring them. Here again you can work towards getting up gradually, each time adding a little bit more power to your kicks.
You can then work on pulling up or lifting up into handstand from there.
The most important thing is to procedede slowly so that you feel comfortable at each stage of this yoga inversion and so that you can feel your body and control it as necessary at each stage.
Other yoga inversions that you can work towards in a similar manner include headstand, shoulderstand, and pincha mayurasana or forearm stand.
Shoulder Stand could be considered one of the easier inverted yoga poses because your base is so big. However it can be difficult to get into especially if neck flexibility is limited and or you have weak abdominals. And so using a wall is a good way to get started.
To use a wall when doing shoulder stand or salamba sarvangasana start with your legs up the wall and scootch close so that your but is also against the wall. Then bend your knees and use your feet against the wall to lift your pelvis off of the floor. As you get your pelvis higher you can then work at getting your shoulder blades closer together to help lift the base of the back of your neck off of the floor.
As with all other inverted yoga poses, work slowly and gradually, proceed step by step and learn to feel your body and control it every step of the way.
Once you are used to getting up and down using a wall you can try rolling into shoulder stand.
For headstand one of the first considerations since your neck could be under a lot of pressure is learning to use your shoulders to help create a solid base. In addition, while in headstand you can use your shoulders to help you balance.
An option for headstand is forearm stand. The poses are similiar in that the forearms are on the floor however in forearm stand the hands are separated and the head is off the floor. This inverted yoga pose may require a bit more flexibility in the shoulders and chest. Usually I use some shoulder stretches prior to actually having my students try the pose.
If you are already pretty comfortable with headstand here are some guidelines for getting into this inverted yoga pose with your legs straight.
Once you are comfortable in being upside down in any inverted yoga pose, you can then work towards balancing in that yoga pose. To make balancing in headstand easier make sure that you use your shoulders to push your elbows into the floor. Focus on keeping your weight midway between your elbows and head. You won't be quite vertical but once you can hold this position, and get in and out of it comfortably then you can work towards balancing with all your weight on the crown of your head.
For shoulder stand you again press your elbows into the floor. You can have your weight between elbows and hands but as you get more comfortably you might try shifting your weight so that it is centered over your shoulders. Remember to keep your shoulder blades squeezed towards each other.
I've included a step by step guide to using the wall for headstand, shoulderstand as well as tips on how to balance in headstand, in Balance Basics: A Simple Guide to Mastering Balance.
Standing yoga poses are one possible starting point for beginners yoga. This set is designed to improve both body awareness and yoga pose awareness and includes rest and recovery yoga poses.
This yoga workout includes exercises for working towards foot behind the head, the front to back splits and increasing arm strength and body awareness with yoga push ups. And it includes some more basic yoga poses like bridge, pigeon and seated forward bend.
This beginners yoga workout is designed to get you familiar with your body as well as some basic yoga movements. It includes poses that strengthen the arms, legs and core, and simple exercises that develop awareness, coordination and balance.
This selection of psoas stretches with a focus on lengthening the lower fibers of the psoas. You'll need some body awareness for these stretches but you may find that these stretches also help you to develop it.
The lower fibers of the psoas muscle can be a lot more difficult to stretch than the upper fibers. These are the fibers that may cause low back pain in some people. Learn how to lengthen both the lower fibers and get a taste of controlling them.
At one of his workshops Richard Freeman constantly invited us to lift our kidneys or our 12th ribs or even the back of the diaphragm in order to lengthen the psoas major. I later found out that via connective tissue (or anatomy trains) these are all connected.
The lower fibers of the psoas major can create a shearing action on the lumbar spine in some body positions. This shearing force can easily be felt in yoga poses like reclining hero pose. Learn how to counter-act that effect.
Learn how to use your psoas major to help your forward bends (it is a hip flexor after all) and your jump ups into handstand. Also included, some simple psoas stretches you can do while sitting or standing.
Pigeon yoga pose has several variations all of which can be used to stretch the outer hips and some of which can be used to stretch the hip flexors. Learn how to stretch the hips whether the front hip is lifted or whether it is resting on the floor and how to create space in this hip stretching posture.
Yoga arm stretches can be done while standing or sitting or in any other position where the arms are free. Use some of these arm positions as preparation for yoga binding poses or as substitutes.
Scapular mobility and stability can be facilitated with greater scapular awareness. These yoga exercises are designed to make it easier to become aware of your shoulder blades while moving them slowly and smoothly without the arms bearing weight. You can then carry the same awareness into exercises where the arms do carry weight.
New yoga notes, try the yoga half side split while lifting one arm to develop inner thigh strength and to work towards one armed push ups. The mindful use of tension is important to be able to smoothly transition in and out of this position.
When the hands are on the floor in yoga poses like handstand, chaturanga, wheel pose or while doing yoga push ups, one option for creating shoulder stability is to work from the ground upwards. That means stabilizing the hands, fingers and interestingly, the elbows.
Reclining half hero yoga pose, eka pada supta virasana, is a gravity assisted quadriceps stretch with several variations. Some simple adjustments can be used to help keep the knee down and create room for the hip.
Bridge yoga pose can be used as a preparation for wheel pose or as a counterpose to re-energize the body after forward bending. It can also be used as a preparation or substitute for plough pose and/or shoulderstand yoga pose.
Foot behind the head can be a challenge both mentally and physically. To make it easier work towards it while laying on your back and prepare with variations of pigeon and happy baby yoga poses.
Happy baby hip stretch can be used as a substitute for low lunge and as a preparation (or alternative) for marichyasana type yoga poses as well as foot behind the head. And it's an easy way to stretch the hip extensors without involving the hamstrings.
In pigeon yoga hip stretch you can deepen the hip stretch by gradually moving your foot further forwards. Another way to deepen the yoga pose is to add weight.
Yoga push ups can be used to develop body awareness and arm strength and help make chaturanga dandasana easier. They can also leave you feeling nicely energized.
And just like there are two options for jumping through with legs straight, there are also two options for jumping into bakasana. These tips are from Dice Lida-Klein.
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