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.
Drill #2: Leg Raise to Plow
Begin lying down on your back on your yoga mat.
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.
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.
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!
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 yoga 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!
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! Follow me on Instagram @gracelingyu or Facebook @PowerWithGrace to see my daily practice!
“Yoga makes the impossible possible.”
~ Sherry Han