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8 Reasons You Can’t Balance a Handstand Yet

“I just don’t know why my handstands are SO bad,” an accomplished aerialist told me recently. “I know what to do, I have pretty good body awareness, but I just can’t stay balanced.” Handstand progress is usually s-l-o-w, but sometimes beginners are missing a crucial piece of info that, once put into place, allows them jump ahead in their balance ability right away. Seeing a student have that lightbulb moment and hold a handstand longer than ever, after just a single class or lesson, is one of my favorite experiences as a handbalancing coach! As I mentally sifted through the possible culprits for this aerialist’s inconsistent balance, I realized I had a catalog I could share that might help people who I can’t diagnose in person. So, roughly in the order that I’d address them in a student, here are eight roadblocks to holding a handstand into eternity.

  1. Fear of falling out of a handstand

    Fear of crashing can keep you from kicking up far enough in your handstand.

    cartwheeling out of a handstand

    Comfort cartwheeling out of a handstand means you can learn by safe trial and error.

    Fear of falling over. If you’re afraid of kicking up too hard to your handstand because you think you might fall over and hurt yourself, you’ll rarely kick up enough to achieve balance. But if you feel safe both underbalancing (not getting completely inverted) and overbalancing (going too far, past vertical), then you can slowly work toward consistently kicking up exactly the right amount, in between those two.
    The solution: With an instructor, learn to twist/cartwheel out comfortably and safely.

  2. Hands too far apart. Almost everybody untrained who does handstands for the pure joy of them puts their hands too far apart. When you want to hold your handstand for longer than a split second, most people will have more success if their hands are directly under their shoulders so that their arms are vertical and their weight can go straight down through their bones into the floor. This distance might be far narrower than you imagine (I like about 12 inches between the tips of my middle fingers).
    The solution: Film yourself or ask a friend what they see; bring your hands narrower until your arms are parallel to each other. Then memorize the image of your hands on the floor the right distance apart, or note how many floorboards or tiles apart they are.
  3. Read More »8 Reasons You Can’t Balance a Handstand Yet

handstand watching smartphone video

How to Train Handstands by Yourself — and Keep the Joy Alive

Sometimes your handstand training buddy stands you up. Sometimes you’re the only one at your gym or studio who’s excited about standing on your hands. No matter the reason, training handstands by yourself can feel lonely, impossible, or both — but there are ways to do it successfully and keep the joy alive!

handstand endurance holdYears ago, on a trip to San Francisco, the Chinese acrobatics master Lu Yi told me that the first thing one must train in handstands is strength (next, balance; then, simple tricks; then, harder tricks; finally, creativity). While I don’t agree that creativity has to come last, it does seem that one basic way to train handstands on your own is to build strength by holding them for as long as you possibly can — a good goal for beginners and advanced practitioners alike (Lu Yi wants me to be able to balance a handstand for five minutes — “to be professional,” he says — so I should definitely be strong enough to stay in a handstand for that long without having to balance myself). It sure is nice to train endurance holds with someone spotting your handstand, but if you’re on your own, it’s time to get comfy in a handstand at the wall.

Read More »How to Train Handstands by Yourself — and Keep the Joy Alive

handstand alignment directives

7 New Ways to Visualize Handstand Alignment

handstand alignment directivesElbows straight, shoulders open, ribs in, tail tucked … there are so many little things to keep thinking about to create a straight, aligned handstand! That’s why I’m in love with this illustration that visualizes and consolidates the efforts of a straight handstand; each arrow represents an action or energy line that leads to proper alignment. I first encountered an illustration of the body with arrows like this when I was a young dancer at a BalletMet summer program, to illustrate ballet posture. The same arrows work beautifully for handstands. Still overwhelmed? Below are seven ways to break this illustration down and focus on just one aspect of the directives at a time. (Click on each photo to see it bigger!)

handstand front alignment1. Front of body

Often the front of our body is the easiest to pay attention to; it’s what we see in the mirror, what we see in others’ bodies when we talk with one another. And because the energy lines along the front of the body inherently connect to the ones along the back, thinking only of the front of the body will also affect the back, will affect the entire body’s alignment. Every handstand cue we’re used to hearing can be seen in the arrows along the body’s front: straighten elbows, open shoulders, pull ribs in, open hips, straighten legs, point toes.Read More »7 New Ways to Visualize Handstand Alignment