How to Do the Handstand Pose (Adho Mukha Vrksasana) in Yoga

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

How to Do a Yoga Handstand
Ann Pizer

Targets: Shoulders, wrists, arms, balance

Level: Advanced

Handstand (Adho Mukha Vrksasana) has become a kind of gold standard yoga pose. But it's important to remember that whether or not your Handstand looks amazing on Instagram really doesn't matter. If you never get away from the wall, it's actually not such a big deal—it's just like using a prop in any other pose. You get the benefits of the inversion either way. Handstand is so much about a strong core. Work on your core strength if this pose seems out of reach. By practicing your Plank, Tree Pose, Downward Facing Dog, and Four-Limbed Staff Pose, you will build the strength and balance needed for Handstand.

Benefits

Handstand builds strength in your shoulders, arms, and wrists. The psoas muscle also gets a workout in keeping your spine stabilized. As an inversion, it sends blood to your head, which can both be energizing and conversely help to calm you. Handstand helps you improve your sense of balance. Like all poses that are difficult, it's fun to accomplish something that you doubted your ability to do.

Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. Come into Downward Facing Dog with your hands about 6 inches away from the wall.
  2. Walk your feet in closer to your hands, bringing the shoulders over your wrists.
  3. Bend one knee and lift the other foot off the floor. Take a few hops here, jumping off from the bent leg and lifting the straight leg toward vertical.
  4. On about the third hop, try bringing both heels to the wall over your head. Keep your head down between your upper arms.
  5. Practice taking the heels off the wall and balancing. You will need to strongly engage your legs and reach up through your heels. You can also start to work on bringing your gaze to the floor.
  6. Bring one leg down at a time and rest before trying to kick up with the opposite leg for balance.

Common Mistakes

When you raise your leg, be sure to keep your hips square and don't rotate your raised leg. Otherwise, your center of gravity will be shifted and you won't be able to balance into Handstand.

Modifications and Variations

There are a number of ways to work on getting into Handstand, both at the wall and in the center of the room. If you do start working toward holding the pose in the center of the room, there are a few other methods of kicking up that you may want to consider trying.

Using the wall provides a sense of security that is necessary for a lot of people at first because the fear of falling is a big obstacle that has to be overcome before progress can be made.

A two-legged jump into the pose works better for some people. After step 2 above, bend both knees. Jump lightly, bringing your butt to the wall. Straighten both legs. To prepare for this entry, try some donkey kicks with both legs. Jump up and try to tap your butt with your heels.

To work on taking the pose away from the wall you can use these methods:

  • Begin in position for a standing split. Flatten your palms to the floor and bend your standing leg. Hop lightly to bring both legs up. Sometimes it helps to bend your lifted leg as you jump. It's OK if the first leg up goes past vertical, either straight or bent. This can help you get your balance. Once you are balanced on your hands, work on bringing both legs straight up.
  • Begin in a prasarita padattanasana. Straighten your arms in your forward bend. Shift your weight forward into your hands. Try lifting the legs out to the sides and up simultaneously with control. Your shoulders may come past your wrist as you lift up. That's ok but realign them when you are in the pose.

Safety and Precautions

Avoid handstand and other inversions if you have any conditions where your doctor recommends not letting your head go below the level of your heart. These often include uncontrolled high blood pressure, stroke, detached retina, glaucoma, and recent dental bone transplants. Avoid this pose if you have an injury or chronic pain condition of your neck, shoulder, or wrist. To see if your body can handle Handstand, check to ensure you can hold Downward Facing Dog and Plank Pose for more than 30 seconds without any pain or discomfort.

Until you are proficient with Handstand, practice it against a wall or with a friend or instructor spotting you.

Try It Out

Incorporate this move and similar ones into one of these popular workouts:

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