My First Press Handstand!!! You Can Do It Too!!!

Handstand

My master yoga teacher, Sherry Han, always says, “Yoga makes the impossible possible.”  Well, let me tell you, I always thought that it would be impossible for me to do a press handstand.  Im. Pos. Sib. Ble.  After 12 years of practicing yoga, I have FINALLY crossed that line and I did my first press handstand (to my disbelief as I was lifting my legs to the sky) two days ago.  It is an unbelievable feeling to actually prove yourself wrong.  I have made the impossible possible, and so can you!!!

So what is a press handstand?  Well, here’s a video to show you my very first successful press handstand (and the failed attempts leading up to it):

As you can see, a press handstand just means that you press your hands into the floor and lift your legs into a handstand without jumping or any momentum.

Ready to learn???

Part of my frustration failing at the press handstand was because I thought my shoulders were just not strong enough.  I didn’t realize that the key to doing a press handstand lies in the deep core level.  No amount of sit ups and crunches will help you with press handstands.  You have to learn HOW to access this deep abdominal muscle and strengthen it.

Here are some drills that helped me begin to connect with this deeper core sensation, and in my opinion, are essential for working up to press handstands:

Drill #1: Plank Pike Ups (Or Plank Tucks)

Begin in a plank position and place your toes on something that can slide on the floor, for example a towel on a wood floor.

Variation 1: Plank Tucks

On your exhale, press your hands into the floor, lean your shoulders over your fingertips, and slide your knees in towards your chest.  Inhale and slide the toes back out into a plank.  Work to 10 repetitions.

Variation 2: Plank Pike Ups

After you have mastered the plank tucks, then work on keeping the legs straight and sliding your toes towards your wrist, piking at the hips, then sliding back.  Work to 10 repetitions.

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Drill #2: Leg Raise to Plow

Begin lying down on your back.

Variation 1: Leg Raises

Keep your hands by your sides, palms facing down.  Bring the legs up to the sky and on the inhale lower your legs 2 inches off the floor without lifting your spine off the mat.  Exhale and bring the legs back up to the sky.  Work to 10 repetitions.

Variation 2: Leg Raise to Plow Arms Down

Keep your hands by your sides, palms facing down.  Start with a regular leg raise, lowering 2 inches off the floor on the inhale, and then lifting the legs to the sky on the exhale.  This time continue to reach the legs over your head keeping the legs straight, eventually bringing the hips over the shoulders and coming into plow pose.  On the next inhale, slowly lower the spine down onto the mat as controlled as possible until the legs are 2 inches off the floor again.   Repeat and work up to 10 repetitions.

Variation 3: Leg Raise to Plow Arms Up

If you have mastered the leg raise to plow 10x with your arms by your sides, then now you can move on to the next step: do the same movement except your arms are extended to the ceiling.  Now you cannot rely on your arms to lift your legs and hips off the floor to get to plow.  It requires that deep abdominal strength, as well as a conscious “rolling” of the hips in order to move into plow.  Try to complete the movement with absolutely no momentum and as slow as you can.  Try to work up to 10 repetitions.

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Drill #3: Wall Press

Basically, this gives you the sensation of a press with the assistance of a wall behind you.  Begin in a wide straddle facing the wall.  Place your hands down on the floor and lean your shoulders and the back of your head completely onto the wall.  Imagine you are doing the leg raise to plow drill, and lean into the shoulders as you roll your hips up and back towards the wall, lifting the legs in a V up to the sky.  Work to 10 repetitions.

Variation 1: Feet can stand on blocks.  This gives you an advantage because your hips are already higher and it is easier to lift the legs up.

Variation 2: The further your hands are from the wall, the easier it is, so start as far as you can.  But find the distance where the back of your shoulders and head are resting on the wall behind you.

Variation 3: If need be, you can always add a little hop to help your feet initially lift off the floor.  Make sure to hop into a controlled wide straddle, keeping both legs straight and legs out wide.  However, it is more effective to practice smoothly lifting your feet even an inch off the floor, then jumping and getting the legs to the sky.  Try not to hop as much as possible, unless your purpose is to practice holding a handstand for as long as you can, not to practice pressing to a handstand.

Variation 4: If you have mastered 10 repetitions of the wide wall press, then the next place to go would be starting with your feet together and lifting the legs up into a handstand.  This is much harder than beginning in a wide straddle in my opinion.

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Drill #4: Crow to Pike

OK, this next drill is a tough one, but it really allows you to feel your deep belly muscles working hard!

Variation 1: Master your crow and be able to hold it for at least 10 breaths.

Variation 2: Work on straightening the arms as much as possible into crane and holding for at least 10 breaths.

Variation 3: From crane, flex the feet and bring your big toe and second toe to your wrists.  Hover as high off the floor as you can.  Press your toes as strong as you can against your wrist and when you do so you can begin to straighten the legs and lift your hips up to the sky.  I’m still working on holding the pike position up to 10 seconds!

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Drill #5: Using Blocks

If you have worked on drills #1-4 over and over and over and have mastered the 10 repetitions each, now you are ready to try your press handstand variation with blocks.  Begin in a wide straddle, feet on two blocks and hands on the floor.  Press into your hands, lean into your shoulders as if the wall was behind you, lift your heels as high as you can, and engage those deep abdominal muscles to lift your feet off the blocks.  Even just lifting a millimeter off the blocks and floating for that split second is progress!  Keep trying and that millimeter will become a centimeter, and then an inch, and on and on!

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What I love about yoga is that there is never an end to it.  We keep working, we keep trying, we keep growing, and once you master one thing, there is always somewhere else to go.  For example, I just did my first press handstand two days ago, but it is not consistent yet.  Now I am working on finding that consistency, and after I do, then I will be trying to do a press handstand with my feet together versus apart.  I am also working on “floating” down from the handstand, such as floating down into crow as I attempted in my first video above.  So much to learn, so much to grow.

Some people may find this discouraging or frustrating, but I think that’s what makes yoga exciting, humbling, and beautiful.  Our bodies are continually changing, strengthening, and opening with yoga, and through it, we see that yoga is a realistic reflection of our lives.  Yoga teaches us to face our challenges, work through them, and eventually overcome them.

I really hope these drills are helpful for you.  Please share your experiences and any other tips you have!  Happy pressing!

“Yoga makes the impossible possible.”

~ Sherry Han

Yoga Dance – “Make You Feel My Love”

It’s been about 9 months since my first Yoga Dance, and now that I am a year older as of yesterday, I decided it was time to try doing another one.  Yoga is such a challenging and humbling practice.  There is always something more to learn, more to grow, more to develop… and yet, we learn in yoga to stay only in the present moment and let go of expectations, competition, or judgment.  We let go of where we’ve been, and let go of where we want to go, and only focus on the “now.”  Every time I step on the mat, it’s a whole new experience.  Some days are wobbly and weak, other days are stable and strong.  And I just accept it, appreciate it, and remember that I am grateful for simply… being on the mat.  I absolutely love it.

Right now, I am in love with the song, “Make You Feel My Love,” by the Glee Cast, specifically sung by Lea Michelle.  Hope you enjoy my yoga dance… one in which you will see me shaking, struggling, and if you listen close enough, grunting.  =)  A big thank you to Jamie Ginsberg, the owner at Marin Power Yoga who was open to doing an impromptu video shoot after I taught my class… sometimes it’s just better unplanned.  =)

The Grateful Habit

Grateful 365 Days a Year

“For each new morning with its light, For rest and shelter of the night.  For health and food, For love and friends, For everything Thy goodness sends.”

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Today I celebrate another birthday.  Yes, some things are different today.  I might hear from more people than a usual day.  I might receive a few more cards or gifts than a usual day.  I might eat a little unhealthier than a usual day.

But one thing that does not change from the other 364 days in the year… is feeling grateful.

We don’t need a special occasion or event to feel grateful.  We don’t need to receive anything or be acknowledged to feel grateful.  We don’t need to wait until we lose something or someone to feel grateful.

Being grateful is a skill to learn, a habit to form, a discipline to master.  It requires effort and it demands practice.  But when you put in that effort and when you truly practice being grateful, the way you see and experience the world will drastically change.

To be honest, on most days I am a nervous and anxious person who worries about everything and stresses out over the smallest things, causing me to be an insomniac, and is probably one of the triggers for my life-long migraines.  On other days, my naturally introverted personality likes to be self-critical and forces me so deep inside my head that I feel like I am bordering between moodiness and depression.  It is easy to be negative, to be pessimistic, to be angry.  Life is cruel to everyone in so many ways… but life can also be beautiful if you allow yourself to see the light in the darkness.

Three years ago, I received a gift from my sister – a five-year journal.  Each page had the date on the top, for example, March 10th, and underneath were 5 spaces for the journal entry, one for the current year, one for the following year, and so forth.  I chose to use this journal as a tangible method of forcing myself to see, really see, at least one positive thing that I was grateful for that day.  And so I began forming the habit of writing in my gratitude journal, and more importantly, forming “The Grateful Habit” of seeing the positive in negative, or simply ordinary, days.

Feeling grateful for not only the big things, but mostly the little things, is what transforms your attitude, your perspective, and your approach to life.  I am grateful for the rain because it makes my daughter so incredibly happy to jump in puddles when normally I would avoid being outside at all, I am grateful when I share a positive conversation in passing with someone I might normally not have talked to, I am grateful I was kept safe instead of being in a horrible accident that I witnessed, I am grateful for the barista that decided to give me a free drink for no reason, I am grateful for sitting here right now sharing my thoughts with all of you…

My birthday wish this year is for you to try it, at least for today, to reflect on your day so far and pinpoint one unique moment that made today different, a little better, a tiny bit more special.  What is something that made you smile, pleasantly surprised you, warmed your heart, helped you simply get through the day, or perhaps, made you laugh out loud today?

Today, I am grateful for YOU for taking the time to celebrate my birthday and reading my thoughts on this blog.  Thank you, I so appreciate you, and I hope you will be inspired to join “The Grateful Habit” in your own daily life.

Here are some of my favorite Grateful quotes that I would love to share with you:

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“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life.  It turns what we have into enough, and more.  It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity.  It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.  Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”

~ Melody Beattie

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“Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world.”

~ John Milton

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“Whatever we are waiting for – peace of mind, contentment, grace, the inner awareness of simple abundance – it will surely come to us, but only when we are ready to receive it with an open and grateful heart.”

~ Sarah Ban Breathnach

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“The greatest contribution we can make to the well being of those in our lives is to have peace in our own hearts.  When our hearts are filled with gratitude and our minds are brimming with enthusiasm, everyone we encounter leaves our space feeling a little lighter than when they entered it.”

~ David Simon

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“Gratitude goes beyond the ‘mine’ and ‘thine’ and claims the truth that all of life is a pure gift.  In the past, I always thought of gratitude as a spontaneous response to the awareness of gifts received, but now I realize that gratitude can also be lived as a discipline.  The discipline of gratitude is the explicit effort to acknowledge that all I am and have is given to me as a gift of love, a gift to be celebrated with joy.”

~ Henri J. M. Nouwen

Power Yoga Playlist – “Spring”

Rainbow

March is here, and we begin to say goodbye to winter and hello to spring.  One of my favorite things about March is seeing all the spring blossoms that begin appearing everywhere.  A normal commute along the usual roads, or a regular walking path around the neighborhood, can be brightened by the beautiful colors and flowers all around, if you just take a moment to notice them.

March is always quite a rainy month, but without the rain, we wouldn’t have rainbows coloring the sky.  My most recent Power Yoga playlist is inspired by this changing of seasons from winter to spring.  I searched for songs that I felt expressed beauty, light, and appreciation for something as simple as seeing a rainbow that appears one moment and is gone the next, or seeing the rays of sunlight peeking through thick, gray clouds.

Hope you can take a moment each day and see glimpses of the beautiful world we live in.  Happy Spring!

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Power Yoga Playlist – “Spring”

Introduction / Pose Breakdown / Breathwork:

Silence

Sun Salutations A & B:

1) “Beautiful Day,” by U2, 4:08

2) “Under the Sun,” by John De Sohn, 3:13

Standing Work Series:

3) “Ray of Light,” by Madonna, 5:21

4) “Brighter Than the Sun,” by Colbie Caillat, 3:50

5) “Let the Sun Shine,” by Labrinth, 3:00

6) “Go Outside,” by Cults, 3:23

7) “Island in the Sun,” by Weezer, 3:21

8) “Beauty in the World,” by Macy Gray, 3:50

Backbending / Core Work:

9) “It’s a Beautiful Day,” by Boyce Avenue, 3:12

10) “Good Life,” by Tyler Ward, 3:27

Hips / Deep Stretching:

11) “Hello Mr. Sun,” by Joe Brooks, 3:18

12) “Beautiful Day,” by Joshua Radin, 3:32

13) “A Good Day (Morning Song),” by Priscilla Ahn, 3:24

Savasana:

14) “Long Time Sun,” by Girish, 5:24

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“How quick and rushing life can sometimes seem, when at the same time it’s so slow and sweet and everlasting.”

~ Graham Swift