Are you a total yoga fanatic? Just beginning your practice? Or getting your practice in when you can? Either way, handstands and inversions are inspiring the world everywhere one hashtag at a time. While social media is a great inspiration to kick start your own yoga journey, it is imperative to do your homework. Knowing the proper alignment for YOUR body is key to keeping your body safe from injuries. This will help to build the balance between strength and flexibility to achieve your desired poses. Cultivating a stronger foundation while practicing poses with integrity and proper alignment will allow you to practice yoga into the later years of your life.
To effectively achieve difficult inversions you must:
1. Have fun with it!
2. Remember to stay safe and listen to your body to not force yourself into any pose.
3. Remain patient and the more you practice and gain strength, eventually the pose will come with ease.
So now it’s time to get down to business. Even if you have the time to make it to class 1-5 times a week, whatever it is remember to do your extra homework at home whenever you can fit it in. Make sure to always warm up before starting anything.
The Breakdown: Key alignment points
Planks – Core strengthener
– Fingers spread evenly, with shoulders over wrists, arms straight, or a slight bend if you hyper extend (arms go beyond straight).
– Shoulders in line with the base of the neck, with rhomboids engaged on your back, eyes of the elbows pointing forward. Hips shoulder height, while squeezing your glutes. Legs straight, feet flexed, pushing the heels away from the crown of your head.
– Head in line with spine with the gaze slightly forward, ears in line with shoulders.
– The same key points go for forearm planks as well.
– From a forearm plank, keep the same engagement as a regular plank.
– Make sure your inner wrists and elbows stay grounded, and your shoulders directly over elbows. Your arms should stay parallel, with shoulders lifted to release and extend your neck.
– Begin to extend the spine and lift your hips, keeping your ears in line with your upper arms.
– Keep your feet firm on the ground to engage the front of the legs. Your legs may not be able to go straight if you have tight hamstrings, so keep a bend in your knees, lift your heels and go on to the balls of your feet to protect your back and hamstrings.
– Your arms from the elbows to the armpits are holding you up! Keep your engagement strong and do not let the shoulders move forward of the elbows.
– Keep your hips lifting away from your shoulders, extending the spine, & sides of the body not letting it round.
L Shape at the wall
– Stand facing the wall, lift one leg straight out pressing your foot into the wall to measure the distance needed.
– Turn around and place your hands where your heels were away from the wall
– Place one foot at a time up the wall until your feet are in line with your hips, firmly press your hands into the ground keeping arms straight just like in plank. This will be an upside down L.
– Keep your ears in line with your arms, relaxing your neck.
– You can lift one leg up at a time, which essentially is half of a handstand!
– Always keep arms in chaturanga 90 degrees, depending on the pose shoulders may go slightly forward of the wrists, keep the engagement of the rhomboids to protect your shoulders and neck.
– Using your core will make arm balances feel effortless, so any core exercise will help build the strength needed to take flight.
Exercises for flexibility
– Wrist stretches (side to side rotations) which also helps to strengthen
– Hip openers
– Forward folds, sitting or standing
– Baddakonasana (seated star pose)
– Figure 4, standing or lying on back
– Thigh stretches
– Low lunge with a straight back leg, pointed foot
– Shoulder openers – Clasping hands behind the back and stretching forward
– Eagle arms
– Heart openers – warm up with cat/cow Bridge, Wheel, Camel
Exercises for strength
– Downdog holds, 3 legged, lifting one arm or leg at a time and holding
– Basic pushup (Chaturanga)
– Pushups with a bent leg, knee on tricep
– Plank holds. 1 minute or as long as you can
– Shoulder tap planks. 10 times each side (or more)
– Plank, side plank, push up, side plank, Plank… Repeat 5-10 times
– Handstand wall holds. Work up to 1 minute and keep holding!
– L shape at the wall, lift one leg at a time, feel the stack of hips over shoulders
– Half moon (Ardha Chondrasana)
Remember to be patient and to take the inversion process slow. The more you open up your mind and parts of the body, the safer you will have ease with the poses. Stay mindful and enjoy the journey with breath, grace and safety. Getting upside down is fun, but staying safe will prevent injury so you can continue to grow mindfully in your yoga practice.
Rachel Trachtenberg is a yoga teacher in the Philadelphia area. She received her certification at Dig Yoga in Lambertville, NJ. Where her training was focused on the key alignment points that work therapeutically for each individual. She loves to travel the world and create healthy food that she shares on her Instagram and blog!