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Blog

 

 

shoulder mobility and the shape of your handstand

Olivia Marley

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We’ve been practising our handstands in class over the past couple of weeks and a few different students have asked me a similar question: "why can’t I get my body in a straight line?".

Sometimes people that make a slightly curved shape in their lower back in handstand (like that you see me making here) are told it's because they need to engage their core more. It's true that if I switched on my abdominal muscles more here it'd move my legs towards the left hand side of this photo. But then I'd probably lose my balance, because my whole body from chest to feet would be tilting to the left. For me (and for many of my students) this body shape in handstand is caused by limited range of motion in the shoulders.

You can see that my chest doesn't go straight up above my arms here - it tilts a little to the left of the photo. That's because my shoulders don't have quite enough range of motion to let me reach my arms straight over my head without also curving a bit in my lower back. They reach almost all the way, run out of mobility in the shoulders and then the last little bit of reach has to come from movement in the rest of my spine. For a lot of people it's actually that curve in the lower back that creates a banana-shaped handstand 🍌 So of course your core muscles are important. They help to make your upper and lower body move as one congruent unit. But shoulder mobility plays a role for lots of people too 🙌🏼

L-pose or handstand prep

Olivia Marley

This blog post is in response to a student who wanted to practice this posture at home. If you're going to give it a go too remember to back off if anything hurts, and if you're at all unsure maybe have someone nearby to spot you the first time you try it! L-Pose is a great way to build your upper strength in preparation for handstand, without having to worry too much about your balance. And if you want to know when we run our next handstand workshop to help you build your confidence and proficiency in this challenging posture send us a message and let us know!

So if you're ready, start on your hands and knees with the soles of your feet flat against a wall....

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Photo 1: Check that your knees are directly under your hips, and your hands are under your shoulders. You can see that my hands are mistakenly a little too far forward here - it’s much easier if you have a mirror or someone to spot you! Rather than letting your chest sink passively down to the floor, actively push the floor away from you. Activate your core muscles by drawing your lower ribs in towards your spine.

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Photo 2: keep your hands and feet where they are and come into a slightly odd, too short downward dog at the wall. If you have tighter hamstrings you may have to bend your knees quite a bit.

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Photo 3: place one foot on the wall at about hip height. If it's too low, your foot will just slide down the wall. And if it's too high you'll end up in a diagonal line rather than the ninety degree angle we're looking for here.

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Photo 4: actively push your top foot into the wall. In the photo it looks like I'm walking my feet up the wall. But if you look closely, you can see my bottom foot is in mid air. As you push with your top foot, it will send your hips away from the wall and more over your wrists, which will make your bottom foot lift. 

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Photo 5: place your bottom foot next to your top foot. If you know you're a little tighter in your hamstrings it's completely fine to keep your knees bent a little. Push the wall away with your feet, and the floor away with your hands. You can see that having my hands slightly too far forward when I started has meant they aren't underneath my hips here. If you haven't got a friend nearby to spot you maybe try filming yourself on your phone to check how your upside down 'L' looks!

It's super common for people to take their feet too high and their hands too far forward when they first attempt this posture. That way they end up in a diagonal line (which is fine sometimes, but not what we're after here!). It happens because when you first straighten your legs and send your hips over your hands, if you're not used to being in that position it feels like your hips are going way too far. So moving your hands and feet feels much safer! If that step (shown in photo 4) does freak you out at first, know that it's perfectly valid to just practice that until you feel comfortable. There's never any pressure to come into the full posture until you're ready. And just ask if you have any questions! 

Better posture for your upper body

Olivia Marley

So these aren't exactly the most glamorous yoga photos ever (!) but they show some really effective postures. So they're making up the next in our ‘yoga for hunched winter shoulders’ series.

If you picture how you might hunch your shoulders and cross your arms when you’re outside in cold weather - or the position your upper body might be in after you’ve been sitting at a computer for a while - there are a couple of things that tend to happen:

  • the muscles that draw your shoulder blades down and together get overstretched and weak from the shoulders constantly being slightly lifted and forwards

  • the muscles across the front of your shoulders/ chest can get tight and shortened.

So here are the two things I do over and over again to disrupt those postural habits. The top two photos are the same posture but on different sides, so you can see what I’m doing. Make sure the elbow of the arm on the floor is above the level of your shoulder- if it’s in line with your shoulder or below you won’t affect the muscles we’re trying to target. Start lying on your front and then super slowly and gently roll towards that side of your body. 

 

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You might find your body doesn’t roll as far to the side as mine does, or that it goes further. It doesn’t matter either way! Just be mindful that you’re rolling your whole body weight against your shoulder girdle, so while this is a great stretch for your pecs you do need to be gentle with it. Roll towards the arm on the floor until you feel the amount of stretch you want to feel in that side of your chest, and then hold there. Take a few deep breaths up into that side of your chest and then repeat on the other side. This should help relieve tension in the tight muscles in your chest. 

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The bottom photo here shows a simple locust pose. Make sure your palms are facing the floor, and as you lift up concentrate on squeezing your shoulder blades together and drawing them down your back away from your ears. This is a super simple but effective way to strengthen those muscles we’re trying to target in your upper back. Lift up for a few breaths, rest then repeat.
 

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You could do these at home in five minutes, a few times a week. Try it for a month and see if you feel like you're standing up any taller.... And just ask if you have any questions!