- Sanskrit (Original): Adho Mukha Vṛkṣāsana
- Etymology: Downward (adho); face (mukha); tree (vṛkṣa); pose (āsana)
- Fun Fact about the pose: Its literal translation from Sanskrit into English is Downward-Facing Tree Pose. Thinking of the pose that way makes it less frightening, doesn't it?
- Asana Type: Arm Balance, Inversion
- Main length muscle groups: Psoas major, iliacus, latissimus dorsi
- Main strength muscle groups: Spinal extensors and flexors, core muscles, serratus anterior, rotator cuff muscles, deltoid, muscles of the hands and wrists
- Vinyasa Breath: Inhale and exhale possible
How to Cue the Pose: Step By Step
- 1 A great way to get into Adho Mukha Vrksasana is Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog).
- 2 Make your stance a little smaller by walking your feet one step closer towards your hands.
- 3 Lift one leg up as if you were to come into Three-Legged Dog.
- 4 Lean your shoulders forward so that they are stacked above the wrists.
- 5 Activate your Hasta Bandha and create resistance with your fingers on the mat.
- 6 Use a little momentum to lift up the other leg as well. Less is more here!
- 7 Center your legs and inwardly rotate the thighs. This means that your big toes slightly move toward each other.
- 8 Push the mat away with your hands and let your shoulders come closer to your ears. Keep the elbows straight.
- 9 Now hollow your stomach, i.e. suck the navel in and up to activate the core.
- 10 Extend your legs further up toward the ceiling as if you wanted to pull them out of the hip joint (don’t worry, this won’t happen). This will create more length in your lumbar spine.
- 11 Be patient as you come out of Handstand: Don’t just drop your feet down but try to keep the engagement of the core as you slowly come back down onto the mat.
Working The Details: Alignment In The Pose
- Push, hollow, pull: Believe it or not, but Handstand is actually not so much about strength. Although you certainly need strong arms, shoulders, and – most importantly – a strong core, the right technique is more important. Focus on pushing the mat away with your hands to keep the arms active and move the shoulders to the ears. Hollow your stomach to engage the core muscles – in other words: pull the navel in and up. Also extend your legs up as if you were to pull them out of the hip joint. This helps you lengthen the spine.
- Lean, resist, center: Many practitioners want to jump into Handstand thereby losing control over their body and their LTE (Lightness Through Engagement). This will not only be unhelpful but can even be dangerous. Instead, lean your shoulders forward over your wrists and activate your Hasta Bandha to create resistance with your fingers on the ground. This will prevent you from falling over. Finally, focus on centering your legs to keep them engaged as well. You can imagine that you want to squeeze something with your thighs (you can actually put a block between your thighs to do this).
- Calmness, patience, sensibility: For arm balances and inversions like Handstand, your mindset is just as important as your physical alignment. When you practice Handstand, stay calm and relaxed. Don’t freak out or be scared (I know, this is easier said than done). But you also need to be patient: Most of us won’t be able to get into Handstand on the first attempt. You need consistent practice and patience to master this asana. And lastly, you need to be very sensible about your body’s alignment. This means that you have to be aware of where and how your body moves, which parts are engaged, and which need more engagement.
- Buttocks above head: When you come into Adho Mukha Vrksasana, lift the buttocks first and keep the head down. Many practitioners rather look up because they are afraid of falling. However, this will change your center of gravity. For proper alignment, the buttocks need to be directly above the head.
Adapting The Pose Through Modifications
- If you’re new to the pose, it’s probably a good idea to practice it against a wall. However, not in the way you’d think: Don’t just jump your legs up and throw them against the wall. Instead, place your hands around one leg’s length away from the wall with the buttocks facing the wall. Lift your buttocks up and place one foot on the wall at a height slightly above your buttocks. Push the foot into the wall and lift your buttocks higher, keeping the hands and arms engaged. Now lift up the other leg and straighten it up into the air. Gradually, you can release the heel from the wall and only keep the toes on the wall as you simultaneously work on building stability in your arms, shoulders, and core.
- Place a block between your thighs and squeeze it. This will help you center your legs. Then hop up with both legs together, still squeezing the block. Keep the knees still bent and work on this centering action and on activating your core. As the knees are still bent, it is easier to keep your balance and you’re closer to the floor in case you are afraid of falling over.
- You can also put a block into your hip crease squeezing it with your thighs and stomach. This will also give you a great feeling of centering and you can additionally work on your strength and stability in this lower version of Handstand.
- If you have a partner nearby, ask them to put a fist between your thighs. This way, you can also practice centering your legs while your partner gives you a feeling of support so that you don’t have to be afraid of falling.
- Leveling up Handstand? I don’t know where you want to go from there. But you can work on holding the pose longer or playing with the position of your legs, e.g. spreading them into a straddle.
- If Handstand is an old hat for you, why not try it with one arm only?
Benefits of Adho Mukha Vrksasana
- Handstand is a great strength exercise for your entire body: Not only your arms and shoulders get a nice workout, but also – and more importantly – your core and spinal muscles work a lot in this pose!
- The pose is also unique in the way it targets the psoas: It gets lengthened and strengthened at the same time.
- The feet get a really nice pause as they are up in the air (but still engaged). The thing is that your feet take in new stimuli all the time when they are on the floor. This way, our nervous system can hardly take a break. Having the feet in the air gives your nervous system a well-deserved break. This is why inversions can calm the mind.
- Due to the upside-down position, the blood flow to the head is increased, which can have an energizing effect.
- Handstand also helps you to increase your body awareness, your body tension and your sense of balance. This will also improve your posture and help you in all kinds of activities.
- Finally, mastering this asana of asanas leaves you with a great feeling of accomplishment and boosts your self-confidence. It’s also a great way to overcome anxiety.
Pose VariationsSee all Poses
Pose variations can be anything that makes the original pose easier or more simple but also anything making it more challenging or adding complexity.
Handstand with Eagle Legs
Handstand with Lotus Legs
Handstand with Splits
Handstand with Straddle
Preparatory PoseSee all Poses
Preparatory poses are poses that have a similar shape to the pose you want to prepare for but maybe in a different alignment towards gravity and/or poses that target specific body areas to warm up, stretch or strengthen in order to lead to the final pose. Include preparatory poses when you build yoga sequences.
Counter PoseSee all Poses
Counter poses serve to balance the body back into neutral after a pose or a set of same poses. E.g. symmetrical poses balancing asymmetrical poses, forward folds or twists balancing backbends, balancing challenging poses with restorative poses. Use counter poses to build sequences that feel amazing – you can use our free Sequence Builder tool to get started.
Legs up the Wall Pose
Handstand still keeps me excited! It’s one of the poses that never loses its magic.
Content Manager at TINT | Passionate Yoga Teacher
FAQ: Common questions about this pose
Yes and no. Yes, if you use the wall in the right way (see above). No, if you just throw your legs against the wall and, thus, don’t learn to control your movement. Relying too much on the wall is tempting but dangerous. It may prevent you from doing a freestanding Handstand ever. If you want to use a wall, only slightly touch the wall with your feet and remember that it is not there to support you but rather to give you a point of reference. If you can, practice with a partner instead.
If you don’t belong to the very (very!) few people that can do a Handstand straight away, you will need a lot of practice and patience. Some teachers say you need to practice ten thousand times before you will master the pose. This is, however, once you’ve understood and embody the correct techniques. Give yourself time and establish a regular practice routine. This doesn’t always have to be a 60-minute practice. A few minutes every day will be a better option and eventually lead you to the full pose.
First of all, your shoulders most likely are not the problem. If you properly engage your hands, keep the elbows straight and activate your core, your shoulders don’t have to do so much work anymore. Pulling the shoulders up towards the ears will also give them more range of motion and will release the feeling of tension often experienced in Handstand. In many cases, this is not only due to lack of strength but also due to compression of the structures surrounding the shoulders (shoulder impingement).
If you’re able to hold the pose longer than just a few seconds (in which case you probably won’t breathe anyway), you need to establish a regular and smooth breathing pattern. Handstand is one of the most difficult poses in which to breathe effectively because you’re already busy with balancing, stabilizing and building strength in the upper body. Thus, many practitioners instinctively hold the breath –also out of fear. As you maintain the pose for an extended period of time, you will certainly not be able to take long and deep breaths. Focus on efficient and even breaths instead in order to not disrupt the balancing or stabilizing actions of the core.