I used to think that handstands or any other form of inversions were just cool party tricks. Even cooler if you could capture yourself busting out these poses and post it on your Instagram. This was something I was very guilty of early on when I learned how to do a forearm balance or Pincha Mayurasana in a more yogic term.
While I admit that it feels really cool to bust out those moves, I also realize that it takes a lot more work to refine an inversion than just getting into it the first few times.
I remember telling one of my teachers, Yanti, that I could only hold my forearm balance for a few seconds when I go upside down. She gave me a few corrections on the things that I needed to adjust and some pointers on how to properly engage the correct muscles. After a few tries, I was able to come up into it and immediately felt the difference on how light my body was compared to the previous times I did it.
This made me realize that there are so much more to inversions than just kicking your feet up and hoping that your feet will somehow stop on top of you and at the same time be able to balance in mid air.
Strength, stability, mobility, and subsequently flexibility, are all invaluable in building a strong inversion practice—all of which are fundamental concepts in my two most favorite movement practices. Below are some of the things that helped me get better in my inversion practice through yoga and TRX.
TADASANA, MOUNTAIN POSE
While we think that standing up is easy, being able to stand up tall and strong actually takes a lot of effort. You start by having your feet together with the heels slightly apart. Press the thighs back to engage the legs while firming the belly and relaxing the shoulders. Keep the gaze forward. For those who have the tendency to arch the back, slightly point the tailbone down. You would be able to feel yourself standing up strongly.
SHOULDER WARM UPS
Adho Mukha Svanasana or Downward Facing Dog
Downward facing dog is always a good place to warm up the shoulders and get an idea on what it feels like to be upside down. This pose is also a great way to build strength in your shoulders. Start on all fours and slowly push your hips up and back coming to an inverted V position. Keep the neck open by moving the shoulders down and away from the ears and lightly pull the ribs in. Bending the knees in this pose is always a good option, specially if the hamstrings feel tight, as you keep the spine long.
Anahatasana or Melted Heart Pose
While downward facing dog can warm and open up the shoulders, this pose might bring a deeper shoulder opening. Why do you need to open the shoulders? Having open shoulders can help with finding that balance when you are upside down. There is a huge difference between having your legs up but the arms can open only until 170 degrees and being able to stack everything up at 180 degrees. To get into this pose, start from your hands and knees and place two blocks under each elbow. Slowly start to move the hips back and lower the chest down to the mat. Stop when you feel that you are breathing heavily, the idea is to ease into the pose rather than force yourself into it.
Variation of Anahastasana using the TRX Straps
Using the TRX Straps can help you get deeper into the pose while enabling you to maintain the engagement in the abdomen and the legs to prevent the hips from going too far forward.
Planks are always a great way to strengthen the core. And by core, we mean the entire trunk and the deep muscles in it. Start on your hands and knees and step one leg back after the other. I always imagine bringing the bottom ribs to the top of the hip and then dragging them apart by reaching the chest forward. Add the work in the legs by anchoring the feet down and pressing the thighs firmly towards the back or the ceiling.
Variation of the plank using the TRX Straps
Place the feet onto the foot cradles and and come up to plank position. Adding the straps into the equation challenges your stability because the straps can make you unstable (since it can sway side to side or front and back) if your hands and core are not fixed and strong. The instability it creates makes your plank more difficult to hold and maintain, but it can definitely make you stronger and more stable with practice.
Once I feel warmed up and ready to go, I do some dynamic movements using the TRX straps and start moving from plank position to pike position. Then back to plank. Plank-pike-plank-pike, for as many repetitions as your breath can handle.
This move helps build muscle endurance on the back and on the shoulders at the same time strengthen the hip flexors and the quads which will later assist in getting you into handstands without kicking your feet up in the air.
Assisted Handstands using the TRX Straps
Start by having the straps in one handed mode. Have one foot on the foot cradle and start to walk yourself back coming into downdog position while having one leg up. Try and get the feel of lifting the other leg up and maintaining that position. If this is where you are right now, meaning this is where you are most stable, then by all means stay here and build strength first.
It helps to already have an exit strategy when you get up there (i.e. learn how to fall safely and gracefully). And no matter what happens, DON’T PANIC! The strength and stability you worked hard for to get you into this strong inversion will also allow you to come down with control and ease.
Jerome Bayawa started practicing yoga back in 2013 to complement his running. He fell in love with the practice and transitioned from working in a corporate environment to becoming a full–time yoga teacher. Not long after, he started doing TRX when he was given an opportunity to teach suspension training. Since then, Yoga and TRX has become his tools for teaching others to become stronger. He now lives in Cagayan de Oro City with his wife Raissa, who is also a certified yoga instructor. They both run Mana Movement Studio, one of the first TRX + Yoga studios in the city where they continue to share their passion for movement and encourage others to keep on moving.