How To Do A Handstand When You're Terrified Of Going Upside-Down

Photographed by Molly Cranna.
There's a four-minute YouTube video floating around the internet, enticingly titled, "I LEARNED TO BACKFLIP IN UNDER 6 HOURS!!!" It's a compilation of a daring young member of the YouTube group Bucket List Boys, hurling his body onto a mattress until eventually he does a backflip. His cavalier approach to this trick got me thinking about a skill that I've always wanted to master: the handstand.
When I'm in a yoga class and the instructor tells us to try (or "play with") a handstand, I usually take it as my cue to chill out in child's pose. I also went to college for dance, and modern dance instructors often slipped a handstand into choreography, yet I always managed to "miss" that step. Personally, I feel most comfortable when both of my feet are firmly planted on the ground. Despite how easy Jessamyn Stanley and Aly Raisman make it look, handstands are hard and sometimes scary.
A handstand is a full-body pose that requires strength, flexibility, integration, and alignment of the entire body, says Julie Brazitis, a yoga instructor at Lyons Den Power Yoga, a Baptiste yoga studio in New York City. And handstands aren't just fun tricks for Instagram: "Holding a handstand also strengthens the core and legs because you must hug and contract everything into center to keep from toppling over," she says. Every single muscle in your body, from your fingertips to your heels, must activate in order to hold the pose.
At first, I wanted to take the Bucket List Boys' approach and master this handstand thing in a few hours one afternoon, one-on-one with Brazitis — but that didn't happen. Learning to safely go upside-down requires way more patience than I expected. "The patience required to build up to doing a handstand may be frustrating, but it’s important to trust the strength-building and awareness-building process needed to support this inversion," Brazitis says. In non-yoga terms, basically just don't rush it. I fell a few times, which Brazitis says is totally okay, but ultimately my goal was to hold a controlled handstand.
While I couldn't nail the pose in just a couple hours, I did learn a few helpful tips from Brazitis. I practiced at home in my living room, with "The World Turned Upside Down" as my soundtrack, and eventually was able to get up there. There are lots of different methods to get into a handstand, but ahead are the two techniques that really clicked for me. If, like me, you've never been able to do a handstand, these step-by-steps may help. But the most important step to remember when you're learning any sort of athletic skill? "Enjoy the process," Brazitis says.