Our very talented friend and yogi Ms Shabby tells us the intricacies of muscle activation to get into a handstand ~ with a little cheekiness on the side too!
Have you ever wondered what’s the essence of yoga? Or how to be cool and do handstand? I’ll tell you both.
I jump out of bed on a Saturday morning to snap on my gypster outfit after I have massaged green juice into my forehead. Then I whisk down to the closest yoga studio to plug into Mother Earth with my sitting bones and open my heart chakra while chanting a Sanskrit song whose meaning I don’t have the slightest clue about.
No, wait. Rewind. I jump out of bed on a Saturday morning to start the day with hot lemon water and wheat free pancake – yes, I’ve finally nailed that wheat free pancake with organic Nutella – and then I do a few sun salutations bare naked to air my labia and realise that my individual consciousness is one with the universal consciousness .
Maybe not. Start again. So I just jump out of bed to sit on my yoga mat for half an hour to dwell on how cool it would be to do all those one arm balances and fancy inverted postures in handstand like that tiny ashtan. But unfortunately my legs are long, my hips are wide, my shoulders are narrow and I have flabby arms, which cannot lift up and bear the weight of my lanky legs and massive bum.
Sexy and enlightened
I just want to look like Kino MacGregor and do all the fancy postures. I know that putting my legs on the top of my head in a tiny bikini in Scorpion posture will make me sexy and enlightened at the same time.
Now that I have figured out the essence of yoga, I’m going to reveal to you the secrets of handstand, so that you can be the weird yoga person at parties who entertains their pals after you’ve got tired of small talk, or you can do it on a sunny beach in front of some exotic temple and ask someone to take a photo of you to post in on Facebook.
Inverted postures are the asanas that have the most rejuvenating and energising effect on your body if you do them properly, and for long enough periods.
To be able to do handstand, you need not only core (abdominal) strength, but also strong shoulder flexors (anterior deltoids), strong shoulder depressors (pectoralis major and latissimus dorsi), and substantial elbow extensors (triceps) which will all make a joint effort to help you maintain the handstand once you have lifted your legs off the floor with the help of your core muscles. If your shoulder muscles and your triceps don’t have enough strength, your shoulders and back will collapse, and you will fall back to the ground no matter how much core strength you have.
When you are in handstand-preparation – which means that you are bending forward, feet still on the floor while leaning on your arms, and then you start shifting your whole weight gradually on your arms – your shoulder joints are semi-flexed and you try to activate the shoulder flexors in a shortened state. After that, from handstand-preparation to actual hand-stand you have to go from shoulder semi-flexion to complete shoulder-flexion and that is when you need the strong shoulder flexors and depressors, or else, you won’t be able to push and hold yourself up from semi-flexion to flexion.
In the moment of lifting-up, however, you use mainly rectus abdominis, your diaphragm, a little bit of transversus abdominis, hip-extensors (glutes and hamstrings) and spinal extensors (the hip-extensors and the shoulder-flexors will switch on the spinal extensors, namely the erector spinae).
There are quite a few yoga postures in which you can train each of these muscle groups I have mentioned above, but you should know how to activate those muscle groups effectively as it is easy to do these postures in a completely non-effective way:
How to train the rectus abdominis and transversus abdominis:
Do half sit-ups, Pendulum Posture (Lolasana), and Kneeling Plank (see below for how to do kneeling plank)
How to train the spinal extensors:
Do Locust Posture (Shalabasana)
How to train the hip-extensors:
Activate the glutes and the hamstrings in asanas like the Unsupported Standing Frog (Niralamba Utthita Eka Pada Bhekasana), or in Triangle Posture (Trikonasana) and in the Side-lengthening Posture (Parsvakonasana) by trying to ‘stretch the mat with your feet’.
How to train the shoulder-flexors and depressors:
In Kneeling Plank:
Armpits (shoulder-depressor pectoralis major and latissimus dorsi) should push forward towards the hips while elbows and hands should push away from the hips. Hips and sitting bones should push towards the hands by which you activate the rectus abdominis as well. The knees should push away from the hands as if trying to do hip-extension. So in short, armpits and sitting-bones should be pushed towards each other while knees and hands should be pushed away from each other.
If you push the knees forward, that will train your rectus abdominis, but if you push the knees backwards, the deltoids will be trained more (as the hands will push forward) and the rectus abdominis will switch off.
In Downward Facing Dog:
Push sitting-bones and armpits towards each other, while arms and legs push away from each other. The hips and the knees try to extend; the ankles try to plantarflex (as if you want to push your feet into the ground) and the shoulders try to flex just like the wrists, meanwhile the elbows extend.