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Ask me to do a headstand or nearly any other yoga arm balance, and I can do it, but I cannot for the life of me stick a handstand without the help of a wall or a spotter.

enter image description here

Image from Yoga Journal

When going against a wall, I use the technique described by Yoga Journal where you kick up from a downward facing dog-like position. I can do it, but I rely on the wall to stop my feet. If I try to do it free-standing, my legs go right over!

Are there any alignment tricks, learning sequences, or strengthening/flexibility exercises I can do to help me stick a handstand away from the wall?

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+1 adding this to my Bucket List :) – Rhea Mar 25 '11 at 15:37
The reason you fall over is because downdog is a position where your shoulders are behind your hands. When you kick up, you probably lean further back, and your shoulders will gain so much momentum that you will not have the power to stop them (unless you already know this stuff). Rather than DD, start from a position where your shoulders are directly over your hands, your arms are perpendicular to the floor, and when you kick up, focus on keeping your shoulders in place. This will minimize the swing of your body and will make it easier for you to learn. – BKE Jan 7 '14 at 13:06
up vote 15 down vote accepted

Work on strengthening your core muscles and back. Arm strength won't help you much if your core starts tipping over. You need to push yourself up with you core and lower back and hold it there.

One way to work on balance is to spread your weight by separating your legs and feet outwards (like a center split) when you hold your lower body up. It's a similar idea in juggling when you start balancing objects on your hand or chin. Having more weight on top actually makes balancing easier. The distribution of weight will aid in learning what to do with your muscles specifically figuring out which way to move to re-align the center of mass. As you improve you can close the gap, your movements to compensate will become more and more subtle, and the weight will become more concentrated in one area.

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Wow, I'm not going to lie, when I read the thing about doing a headstand with wider legs I was skeptical, but I tried it out and it makes a huge difference! I can actually stick it without my feet hitting the wall like that (not for long, but I'll keep practicing). Thanks for the tip! – Barbie Mar 24 '11 at 19:23
This answer is in dire need of an image to proof it works! – Ivo Flipse Mar 24 '11 at 20:02
Actually, some breakdancers will move their legs out in various techniques. It helps with the balance, but it may be more for show since it's a very visual thing. Still though, it requires core strength to hold their bodies like that. – Matt Chan Mar 24 '11 at 20:46
And some serious strength/balance that takes years to develop. BBoys put a lot of practice into what they do even to accomplish simple moves with style. – Evan Plaice Mar 26 '11 at 19:28
I'd also add, to work on spreading your fingers and using them to control your balance. To see what I mean. Stand up with your legs together and lean forward. You'll find that you use your toes to stay upright. When you're in a handstand you do the same but with your fingers. It takes a while to build up this strength. If you lean back you'll find that you use your heels. In a hand stand you use your palms in the same manner. The reason BBoys can kick their legs around like @Matt said is, you don't use your legs to balance in a handstand, you use your hands. – Evan Plaice Mar 26 '11 at 20:04

Assistance by a partner can be useful and can speed up the learning process. A partner can hold your legs and watch your form, even if she is not proficient in the handstand.

handstand assist

This is only after you can hold the handstand by the wall. Also, be careful not to kick your partner accidentally.

One really good assistance exercise was someone holding your legs, then, putting one closed fist between your knees. You then have to squeeze your knees and use only the fist between your knees to keep yourself in balance (the other hand is then released and your only help will be the fist between your knees).

This is good because squeezing the knees will activate the core right away. Also, the fist will be somewhat unstable, which is useful for learning the balancing skill. So this is kind of halfway between using a spotter and the free standing hs, and can make the transition to free standing easier.

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"When you feel most of your weight on your hands, attempt to keep the force of your weight around the base of your fingers. This allows you to push forward or backwards with your hands, to compensate for when you kick too hard or not enough. You might need to try a few times before you get to balance. Soon you will get it almost every time. Just keep all the weight on your hands." - WikiHow

You'll need a good sense of balance and decent strength in your forearms. Just keep trying and practicing and you'll eventually get it down.

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Hello, it becomes easier when one tries to balance the legs too, but as stated the weight must be on hands :) – ABcDexter Jun 3 at 17:19

I agree about the core strength. Also, I find it helpful to scissor kick up. When I try to kick both legs up at the same time there is often too much momentum for me to control.

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There are muscles right down by your wrist, very low forearm, that are handy for this. They are very under utilized. Hold yourself from going over, even if you do. They will make themselves known very quickly Forearm curls miss these almost completely. I don't know of a good exercise except practicing balance itself. This is assuming all other core strength is in place, which it sort of sounds like it is. I was good for a 20 second hand stand once, probably only 5 or 10 seconds right now myself. Those muscles were my sticking point.

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