February 12, 2015

Visual Yoga Blog: The One-Armed Handstand.


Did you have dreams as a kid of running away with the circus?

(I know I’m dating myself by alluding to a circus, but I was privy in my childhood to the last death-gasps of that dying art, before it reinvented itself as a pricey spectacle for adults in Las Vegas.)

Anyway, I didn’t dream of running away with the circus and becoming a trapeze artist, contortionist or lion tamer. Clowning would’ve been more my style. But, if any of you did, the one-armed handstand can be a part of your circus repertoire.

Disclaimer: this is the non-free-standing variety of handstand, so it probably will only impress your (somewhat inebriated) friends at Christmas parties. Madame Olga, the lithe Russian contortionist, will just scoff at you and upstage you mercilessly with balancing on one arm and resting her butt on her head.

Ready? Here it is:


1. Start in downward dog, facing a wall, with your fingertips about 6 inches/15 centimeters from the wall.


2. Step one foot up about one-third of the way. Here we’ll illustrate this with the right foot forward.


3. Look at the wall. This is a rather important and often skipped step. Swing the left leg up toward the wall with a long (not a short) swing. (That is, swing fast from the floor up to the wall.)

Do not try to lift the other leg; just let it be carried with the momentum. Try this several times until you get the hang of the swinging motion that tends to pull the other leg up too.


6. Now, to actually get up into handstand and hold it, go for overkill in the leg you’re swinging with: that is, plan to hit the wall hard with your heel. Don’t worry: it’ll make more noise that cause pain; plus, after a while you’ll know how much swinging momentum it takes to get up there and won’t need to go for the overkill.


7. Now that you’re in the handstand, stay here for three slow breaths. Do not let your shoulders collapse. If the position feels stable, go on to the next stage; if it doesn’t, stay where you are or come down by lowering one leg.


8. Whatever hand you’re intending on keeping on the floor, walk that same foot to the side on the wall (here demonstrated with the right foot). I prefer to do this first on my weaker side, but you can fine tune this later. Shift the weight more and more onto your right till, with your right arm locked into position, you raise your left hand to the side.


9. Stay in this position for three slow breaths, and then drop the raised hand, walk your feet around to shift to the other side, and repeat on the second side.

Benefits: Strengthens wrists, arms, shoulders and your circus-chasing resume. Builds your balance. Increases your sense of proprioception. Makes you realize that being upside down isn’t as scary as you might have thought.

Avoid if: There are a whole host of reasons to avoid this pose in its one or two-armed version. If you have any issues with your shoulders, if you have carpal tunnel syndrome, if your wrists feel weak or hurt while in this pose (or even in gentler poses like downward dog), if you’re fairly overweight and holding your weight in your hands is likely to lead to you collapsing on your head, if you suffer from hypertension or have otherwise been told not to go into inversions—then this is one to substitute with any other pose you choose.

That being said, handstand is a lot safer than headstand and doesn’t put the kind of entire-body weight on your cervical vertebrae that headstand does. (Many people practicing sports medicine feel that headstand is not safe, or is counterproductive, because of the amount of weight put on bones that are designed at most to hold the weight of your head, rather than your entire body.)

Final thoughts: This is a pose that requires far less strength than it would appear to require. For those who are not excessively overweight and who think they don’t have the strength to hold the position, it has been my experience that you do in fact have enough strength to hold it…even people who have a hard time doing chaturanga dandasana, or the push-up position. So, if you are able to go up into a regular two-handed handstand, build up your confidence first, and then try the one-armed variety.

Just be sure that if you are indeed attempting to impress your (somewhat inebriated) friends at Christmas parties, that you yourself aren’t tipsy before trying this. I know that with a little vino you may feel more confident in your abilities, but I feel even more confident in my ability to predict a broken table, flying glasses, and a photo of you on Facebook that will live in infamy for the next ten years.


Author: Ricardo das Neves

Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photos: Author’s Own

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