Dear Willow: I Am Afraid of Handstands – Help!

I am wondering how to get over the fear of doing handstands in yoga. I’m feeling my “inability” to do a handstand is not a physical limitation, but rather, it is only a fear that holds me back.

Dear Willow,

I am wondering how one gets over the fear of doing handstands in yoga. I am fine in a headstand, using the wall and sometimes without it. However, even while relying on the wall, I still can’t get up into a handstand. I position myself close to the wall, put my hands down on the mat, look at all the space between me and the floor (which really isn’t much), then the brain gets busy! I think my usual strong center of gravity is all over the map – my arms won’t hold me, my legs can’t kick up, etc. So, none of it works. I’m feeling that my “inability” to do a handstand is not an actual physical limitation, but rather, it is only a fear that holds me back in that very moment. So my question is, how do students get over this? I know I am not alone.


Hungry for Handstands

Dear Hungry for Handstands,

Correct! You are not alone! This is a very common fear many practitioners speak about. “Have fears and do it anyway” is my motto. I agree with you there is no real inability other than how you wrap your mind around the positions. Although the headstand is an interesting pose, it is not one I ever teach as it has too much potential for any neck-tweaky person to jam things up. Skip the headstand and work positions and ranges of motion that complement the shapes and movement patterns toward the handstand.

Hand Stand Break Down:

  1. Downward Facing Dog
  2. Turbo Dog (develop strength in triceps, serratus anterior, latissimus dorsi)
  3. Stand and Balance on One Leg
  4. Leg Lifts with Toe Pointing
  5. Finger Pushups Against Wall
  6. Full Pushups Against Wall

After two weeks of working these six break down positions in your yoga practice, add a yoga block under each foot in Downward Facing Dog. Keep your palms flat on the floor and walk your hands back toward the feet while activating/contracting serratus anterior and latissimus dorsi, to wrap and dock the shoulder blades. Add your body weight onto your hands and work pointing a leg up.

As this becomes easier, add more height to lift your feet off floor. This may be done by placing them on a chair or directly on the wall, bringing the feet more level to the hips. In our studio, Inner Elements Yoga, we call this methodology Downward Facing Dog at the Wall.

“Have Fears and Do It Anyway!”

Any way or attempt is better than being frozen in a pose. Create different thoughts around your sticking spot. The only way out of a ditch is to use your bean, grab some tools, and get to work. Think one foot in front of the other and move incrementally when the fears are the loudest. You can tread slowly and gently in this time while you adapt to new sensations or actions as your fears present themselves.

Get Around Fears of Handstand:

  1. Listen to what fears DO come up.
  2. Acknowledge fears and write them down.
  3. Remind yourself and your body that you do have all the strength you need to fulfill a handstand. Your body believes everything you say – if you tell yourself your arms are too weak, they will weaken.
  4. Ground into your strengths by feeling your feet and legs.
  5. Don’t be so rigid. Ground into your steadiness by allowing your fingers, hands, and arms to be flowing or dancing. They are not rods of steel cold to movement, but will calibrate your steadiness by shifting and distributing bodyweight as needed.

handstand, one arm handstand, gymnastics, yoga, forest yoga, willow ryanAllow for your body to feel noodle-like in the arms and activate all the muscles in the legs to pull you up into variations of handstand. Stop worrying! It’s only a handstand! Keep it real, positive, and less integrated into your self worth and you will probably get into the pose – and have FUN!


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