Handstand Technique Video & the Four D’s of Yoga.

Via on Jan 10, 2012

Wide Leg Handstand Press Prep Techniques in Yoga, with Kino MacGregor.

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So: this movement is one of the non-traditional magical tricks that I loved when I first started the practice of yoga. It was something that I never imagined I would actually be able to do. But yoga is the power of transformation where the impossible becomes possible. Here I’ll share with you some of the techniques that helped me learn this movement. Somehow it’s easier to lift up into handstand (or it was for me anyway) with wide legs rather than straight legs because the pivot point of getting the pelvis forward over the arms happens faster. Anyhow, have fun and enjoy!

~

When I first started practicing yoga, I was not naturally strong.

In fact, I was so weak so that I could not do the push-up position known as chaturanga dandasana even with the worst alignment you could imagine. I could either stay in a plank posture with straight arms or go crashing directly into the ground in a belly flop. The first time I tried a headstand, the teacher supported me for a few breaths and then suggested that it was better for me not to try. Handstand seemed like a Cirque du Soleil movement…that would be for another incarnation. I was never a gynmast or a dancer, and I never had any physical training before yoga.

Although I was inspired by the more challenging movements like handstand, I started slowly and first learned the basics like good alignment in chaturanga dandasana and how to balance in a headstand. There is no sense throwing your body into a handstand if basic strength and stability in the shoulder-girdle is lacking. After about five years of dedicated Ashtanga Yoga practice, my body was stronger than I ever imagined it would be. The journey into strength has been at the core of every posture within my practice of yoga. In order for me to move through the powerful transformation that has defined my yoga experience, I had to learn not just physical strength but deep inner resolution as well.

The movement that I’m sharing with you in this clip is not actually in the traditional Ashtanga Yoga series. But it is one that will help you build strength, alignment and technique that you can apply in many places throughout your practice.

If you’re working on lifting up in a wide-legged handstand, here are a few tips that will help you.

First, try the movement from a posture where you already feel comfortable like headstand. If you are able to move through the movement with easy technique and proper alignment, then the muscle memory is in place for a more complex movement. If that was hard then there is still more work to be done before attempting the full handstand lift-up. If the headstand movement was easy, you can try the same movement from forearm stand or pinchamayurasana.

If it was easy for you to lift up from a wide-legged position into pinchamayurasana, then you’re ready to try the full movement from handstand. Prepare by strengthening your shoulder-girdle, and then pressing into the solid foundation of your arms. Be sure that your deltoids, latissimus dorsi and serratus anterior are engaged. Grip the floor slightly with your finger tips and draw your lower ribs in to activate the transverse abdominals. Be careful not to arc your back. Instead, lift up from the front side by sucking the belly in and engaging the pelvic floor. Then, as you inhale, simply send the weight of your pelvis over the solid foundation of your arms and allow that subtle transference of body mass to initiate the lifting-up movement. Once you feel a floating sensation and your feet come off the ground, continue to press into your arms and send the pelvis forward until your body is hovering in balance. Remain calm, relax your breath and pull your body back into the center line to come to a complete balance in handstand. Exit the same way by rolling your pelvis forward over the solid foundation of your arms, sucking in the belly, drawing the lower ribs in and engaging the shoulder-girdle for stability. Melt into the ground when you land, if possible.

Keep your mind single-pointed and remember not to try so hard that you lose your sense of self-compassion.

Each posture that demands more physical strength also demands more spiritual, mental and emotional strength. In order to fully realize the benefits of the Ashtanga Yoga method you must be willing to go through the whole process of transformation. Weakness as a state of mind is just as limiting as weakness as a physical state within the body. I had them both. Whenever things got difficult in the physical practice I just wanted to quit, but my teachers always pushed me further. They believed in me when I wanted to give up on the journey, and it was their faith and dedication that helped me find my own strength. I had the great fortune to study with Sri K. Pattabhi Jois in India and learn the Ashtanga Yoga method directly from him and his grandson R. Sharath Jois. Throughout the process, they constantly challenged me to be stronger in a way that always encouraged me to accept myself and yet go deeper.

My teacher R. Sharath Jois, the director of the K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute in Mysore, India, recently said in a conference that yoga students need “the Four D’s” in order to practice correctly. They are devotion, dedication, discipline and determination. Yogis have a disciplined life to help strengthen the mind.  He said that a yogi’s mind gets stronger within by practicing every day and developing the quality of strength and steadiness of mind, known in Sanskrit as Sthira.

Once the mind is strong, then the yogi thinks about yoga and other spiritual pursuits rather than perpetuating old negative thoughts. Asana is the foundation for all spiritual practice and it paves the way for deeper realization to take root within your being.

About Kino MacGregor

Kino MacGregor is one of a select group of people to receive the Certification to teach Ashtanga Yoga by its founder Sri K. Pattabhi Jois in Mysore, India. The youngest woman to hold this title, she has completed the challenging Third Series and is now learning the Fourth Series. After seven years of consistent trips to Mysore, at the age of 29, she received from Guruji the Certification to teach Ashtanga yoga and has since worked to pass on the inspiration to practice to countless others. In 2006, she and her husband Tim Feldmann founded Miami Life Center, where they now teach daily classes, workshops and intensives together in addition to maintaining an international traveling and teaching schedule. She has produced three Ashtanga yoga DVDs (Kino MacGregor – A Journey, A Workshop; Ashtanga Yoga Primary Series; Ashtanga Yoga Intermediate Series), an Ashtanga yoga practice card and a podcast on yoga. Her next book, The Power of Ashtanga Yoga, is set to come out in the spring of 2013 from Shambhala Publications. As a life coach and Ph.D. student in holistic health with a Master’s Degree from New York University, Kino integrates her commitment to consciousness and empowerment with her yoga teaching. She has been featured in Yoga Journal, Yoga Mind Body Spirit, Yoga Joyful Living, Travel & Leisure Magazine, Ocean Drive Magazine, Boca Raton Magazine, Florida Travel & Life Magazine, Six Degrees Magazine as well as appearing on Miami Beach’s Plum TV and the CBS Today Show. Find her at: kinoyoga.com.

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26 Responses to “Handstand Technique Video & the Four D’s of Yoga.”

  1. Tanya Lee Markul Tanya Lee Markul says:

    Thank you SO much for this. I know that each of our experience and journey is different based on a number of contributing factors, but it's just nice to hear that it took 5 years and not 5 weeks/months to do this posture. ;-) ;-) ;-) There's still hope for me! LOL

  2. Uelia says:

    Thank you Kino for sharing. I will stay away from the wall for now and work on this technique, I know it's gonna be awhile.

  3. Thaddeus1 says:

    "In order to fully realize the benefits of the Ashtanga Yoga method you must be willing to go through the whole process of transformation. Weakness as a state of mind is just as limiting as weakness as a physical state within the body."

    So simple and so important to remember.

    Posting to Elephant Ashtanga. Like Elephant Ashtanga on Facebook.

  4. Tanya Lee Markul Tanya Lee Markul says:

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Tanya Lee Markul, Yoga Editor
    Like Elephant Yoga on Facebook
    Follow on Twitter

  5. John says:

    I can see how it would take 5 years if you practiced like that. If you want to learn elephant lifts (straddle pike press like the video) find a good gymnastics coach. Most yoga teachers are just too limited in the range of approaches and drills they know. It may be that in person Kino presents a whole bunch of additional stuff to her students but the video just doesn't contain anything like enough info to be a useful guide to learning this move.

    • Greg C says:

      The yogi handstand only resemble the gymnast version superficially. There are emphasis on prana and relaxing of your back muscles (!) in yogi handstand …….. not to mention the breathing and dristi ……..

      • Chris Mayhew says:

        Dear Greg, there is absolutely no difference between a yogi handstand and a gymnastic/acrobatic handstand! The practitioner of a handstand will receive the same benefits physiologically and mental/spiritually whether they approach learning from a yoga discipline or physical sport/Art.
        Do you think the top circus artists whom can press up from a straddle L sit on one arm do not receive a inner spiritual training in the pursuit of this? To go beyond the basic "handstand" into the realm of single arm balancing and then one arm presses takes a unheard of level of inner strength, awareness, focus,devotion, discipline and inner peace. It takes oneself to a whole new level of self mastery . The 4 Ds are not exclusive to yoga!
        As far as prana the Chinese acrobats have known and utilized this for thousands of years and teach it in their acrobatic training today. Relaxing ones back, breath control, dristi etc this are all developed naturally through the functions of the kinesthetic proprioception and the limbic system through the Diencephalon.
        Getting back to this article. All of what Kino has demonstrated is very thoughtful and useful. We all come from our own perspectives and physicaly/mentaly differ in abilities and levels. However there is a untold realm of body/mind knowledge out there that is not being passed on through yoga practice and can facilitate learning this basic level of physical control in much less time then five years.

        • Greg C says:

          Thanks for your input Chris. I m just speaking from my own experience. I m considered to be very athletic and when I first started yoga 2 years ago, I muscled my way into a lot of arm balancing and inversions. I thought I was good at it and it does look impressive for untrained eyes. Until last year I started practice Ashtanga seriously, I gradually learned not to rely on my brute strength but focus on the flow of my breath (or prana). To my surprise not only my practice become more graceful, I can do moves that I couldnt do before (e.g. Navasana to handstand without bending my arms). Not that I got any stronger physically, but my improvement of prana (especially after I practice pranayama).
          I agree the 4Ds are not exclusive to yoga, however, I do think different sports (allow me just say yoga is another sport here) do have different emphasis on ones body/mind/spirit. To illustrate my point we can compare a typical Ashtanga yoga master (Swenson & Freeman come to mind) physique to a professional gymnast (Paul Hamm my be?). The former are considerably less muscular than the latter. I think that is due to the different approaches to the arm balancing postures.
          I personally also believe some "non-yogi" training can be beneficial for yoga practice. I have to thank for my prior training that gave me a very strong core and upper body so that I can pick up most arm balancing and inversion poses with ease. Although those same training also gave me a relatively stiff upper back thus I m having a hard time on drop backs and wheel. IMHO adding gymnastic or resistance training etc. as a yoga supplement can be a double edged sword thus needed to be cautious, the "dosage" and directions can varied greatly among individuals. Here is purely my speculation but I guess thats one reason for Kino's to keep her tips within the yoga approach.

  6. lauraplumb says:

    You are so gorgeous, generous and rockin' – thanks, Kino!

  7. ourworldtreeyoga says:

    Awesome!! Thanks so much for telling us the truth how long it took you to get this!! I've been working on it for a bit over a year now! Thanks for your advice and I will certainly try your advice!

  8. Chris Mayhew says:

    Dear Greg, there is absolutely no difference between a yogi handstand and a gymnastic/acrobatic handstand! The practitioner of a handstand will receive the same benefits physiologically and mental/spiritually whether they approach learning from a yoga discipline or physical sport/Art.
    Do you think the top circus artists whom can press up from a straddle L sit on one arm do not receive a inner spiritual training in the pursuit of this? To go beyond the basic "handstand" into the realm of single arm balancing and then one arm presses takes a unheard of level of inner strength, awareness, focus,devotion, discipline and inner peace. It takes oneself to a whole new level of self mastery . The 4 Ds are not exclusive to yoga!
    As far as prana the Chinese acrobats have known and utilized this for thousands of years and teach it in their acrobatic training today. Relaxing ones back, breath control, dristi etc this are all developed naturally through the functions of the kinesthetic proprioception and the limbic system through the Diencephalon.
    Getting back to this article. All of what Kino has demonstrated is very thoughtful and useful. We all come from our own perspectives and physicaly/mentaly differ in abilities and levels. However there is a untold realm of body/mind knowledge out there that is not being passed on through yoga practice and can facilitate learning this basic level of physical control in much less time then five years.

  9. boforbes says:

    Kino, just saw this from your FB post. really enjoyed your articulate reflections on the mental and emotional correlates of the physical challenges of practice. great column! xo bo

  10. mike says:

    link in above article is mistyped
    its http://www.miamilifecenter.com/

  11. [...] Handstand Technique Video & the Four D’s of Yoga. [...]

  12. Ana Holub says:

    I was just practicing tripod headstand today in class. Got it on the third try. Now I can work with pinchamayurasana and THEN handstand. No problem. I'm eternal. Thanks, Kino.

  13. lek says:

    Thanks that was great. :)

  14. Leonor says:

    Thank for share your knowledge!
    Namasté

  15. Dee Greenberg Dee says:

    Kino, I just love this post and especially the video! I also started yoga with completely zero core strength – and although my upper body strength was above average for a woman, it was nothing like what is needed to hold postures like pincamayurasana and handstand. I also did not have any type of dance or gymnast background but when I turned 50 I became determined to master these tough arm balances no matter what! I mainly practiced on my own and I firmly believe that *anything* is possible with fierce determination and discipline! Not that I didn't have teachers, but for me the time on the mat is where it really happens.

    Thank you for inspiring me to go even deeper and further. It took me at least 5 years to really GET pincamayurasana and 3 more years to be able to hold it for any length of time and be ready to move into scorpion. I've been playing around with handstand for the last 8 years and just recently ([ast 2 years) developed my core to the point where I feel it's seriously within my reach – - even at 58!

    I am going to study your video and I am going to GET this! :-)

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