hand balances and facon

This morning, I had the pleasure of teaching a mini hand balance workshop at a friend’s house.  What a great start to a Sunday!  We played on our hands and then rewarded ourselves with a fantastic breakfast made by my friend, complete with facon (fake bacon, you know?).  Below, find my five keys to unlocking hand balances – and some goofy photos…

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Five Keys to Unlocking Hand Balances

You’ll notice that these concepts are nothing new.  You use them in your practice all the time.  However, sometimes, we don’t use these in coordination in each asana.  You may let go of uddiyana bandha in Warrior 2, but you simply can’t let go of your strong, deep core in hand balances.  In coordination, these 5 keys will help you feel strong and light on your hands.

  1. Dristi:  Sanskrit for ‘gaze.’  Find a focal point that helps you create stability.  In most hand balances, that means slightly out in front of your hands (maybe 6-10 inches), however, everybody’s different.  Don’t get hung up on the placement, get hung up on the feeling.  You’ll know if that focal point is right for you and for that specific hand balance.  Then, when you do find it, hold it.
  2. Hands: English for hands.  I know, it seems obvious, but seriously, think about your hands.  These are not arm balances.  When you begin practicing hand balances, you may find that your hip balances on your arms in side crow or your thigh on your arms in eka pada, but with time, these body parts no longer balance on your arms, they simply hug your arms because your core is so engaged that your lower limbs are light.  Rather than thinking about the arms as a shelf to place some other body part on, stay light on your hands by grounding down through the rim of the palm and actually using the finger tips to ‘squeeze’ and find stability.  This isn’t downdog, it’s okay to cup your hands just slightly until you find your sweet spot.
  3. Chaturanga: We often overlook chaturanga as a transition from plank to updog (or some variation), but, surprise, this is a pose!  A relatively new asana, but an asana nonetheless and that means there are specific alignment cues that should be followed.  The basics here – heels directly over feet, navel to spine, elbows over wrists, shoulders no lower than elbows, shoulder heads rolled back, gaze about 6-10 inches in front of the hands.  Once you’ve mastered a properly aligned chaturanga, you’ve built your foundation for almost every hand balance.
  4. Core: If you’ve ever taken a foot off the floor in bakasana, you know it’s all about core.  However, it’s important to remember the difference between a strong core and ‘abs.’  A six pack is not going to get you flying unless you know how to properly engage the core.  We’re looking for deep core connection in hand balances and that comes from uddiyana bandha and mula bandha – drawing navel to spine, the pit of the abdomen rising up and in towards the rib cage while engaging the muscles of the pelvic floor.  Superficial muscles are just that – superficial.  Yoga (and Sadie Nardini) has taught me that it’s possible to have a ‘soft belly, strong core’ – who doesn’t want that?  I don’t know about you, but I’d rather have a healthy core than ripped abs.  Especially if it means soaring high in flying galavasana.
  5. Toes: You heard me right, toes.  Hand balances are full body asanas (I guess all asana is full body, but these guys are not joking).  By the time you make it through the first 4 ‘keys,’ you’re likely going to be on your last breath or two of holding your hand balance.  So, just remember toes, toes, toes: spread ’em and flex the feet.  If your feet are active it’s almost impossible that the muscles of the legs are not engaged.  And once the lower limbs are engaged, you’ll experience a feeling of lightness that you just won’t be able to articulate.  Hence why I won’t try.

So, there you go – my five keys to unlocking hand balances.  Now, I’m no Kathryn Budig, but I did hit my own personal ‘tipping point’ recently with hand balances and I wanted to share a few techniques that I feel have helped me truly soar.