Headstand and Forearm Stand

Headstand and Forearm Stand

Master This Imperative Shoulder Action

scapula elevation

HEADSTAND AND FOREARM STAND

Getting straight to the point, the imperative shoulder action in Headstand and Forearm Stand is elevation of the scapulae. This is the best way to fully participate in developing your potential in these postures. It may seem like a simple action, but it’s important to understand the broader scope of what’s involved. More than just lifting your shoulders up towards your ears, it’s the activation of muscles like the upper trapezius, serratus anterior, and the triceps, along with freedom in the neck, that help support this action. In today’s video, Matt outlines a number of drills that will assist you in finding the appropriate amount of activation and strength to achieve balance, stability, and freedom in Headstand and Forearm Stand.

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    DOWNWARD DOG–DOLPHIN DRILL

    This first drill can be approached in two different ways:

    1.  The first approach to this Headstand drill starts in a shorter Downward-Facing Dog in which your body is still in a diagonal position. You then proceed to play with movement between moving your head gently down towards the ground, which requires a softening in the shoulders, and pushing the floor away with your forearms, creating more elevation of the scapulae and pushing your body back. Matt reminds you not to move back to a point where you feel pain in your shoulders as a result of greater compression in the joint. 
    2.  In the second approach, you’ll walk your feet in to become more vertical (closer to Headstand or Forearm Stand position). It’s important to note the slow lowering of your head towards the ground in order to build greater strength in the elevators of the scapulae.

    WATCH THE VIDEO

    HEADSTAND AND FOREARM STAND: MASTER THIS IMPERATIVE SHOULDER ACTION

    HEADSTAND PREPARATION

    It may be simpler to understand why elevation of the scapulae is important in Forearm Stand: The goal there is to take your head completely off of the ground. Why is elevation of the scapulae also imperative in Headstand? Well, implementing this action will reduce pressure on your cervical spine, that is, in the neck.  

    If you are going forward with this exploration, then you will feel some weight in your head in the starting position (feet down). To reduce this weight, Matt advises you to take your gaze towards your belly button to get longer in the back of your neck and/or to take the opportunity to strengthen your serratus muscles, along with the trapezius, by pushing the floor away to the degree that allows you to lift your head further away from the ground. This movement may be slight or moving more towards Forearm Stand.

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    FOREARM STAND DRILLS

    Once you’ve explored some of the added layers in Headstand from the video, you can move on to explore your potential in Forearm Stand. This of course requires increased elevation of the scapulae in order to lift your head off the ground.

    This time, start with your head completely off the ground. Proceed by lifting one leg up at a time. If you’re close to a wall, like Matt is in the video, you’ll see how he demonstrates a controlled hop.

    Now, if you’re looking for a bit more, you’ll see Matt’s demonstration utilizing a chair in the video. This can be more intense, but what Matt explains is that it’s helpful to remove the balance element from the drill because you can work on strengthening and deepening the connection to the awareness of the range required in the scapulae in order to lift.

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    PROTECT YOUR NECK

    Keep in mind, the best choice to avoid injury or the aggravation of any known discomfort in your neck is to stay away from Headstand completely. However, what’s offered in the video tutorial, assuming it’s safe for you to explore, are ways to intelligently approach the practice of Headstand and Forearm Stand with a deeper understanding of how to prepare your body. The drills teach you how to build strength and mobility concurrently. You’ll learn how to strengthen muscles like the trapezius, serratus anterior, and stabilizers of the neck, but the basis for this strengthening comes from the important action of elevating your scapulae. This action is the catalyst for unlocking your potential in these inversions.

    Register today for The Shoulder Reset, a 2-hour livestream workshop on January 28th, where Matt will dive into technique, anatomy, and the biomechanics of the shoulder joint.

    See you on the mat!


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    Article by Trish Curling

    Videos Extracted From: Shoulder Mobility Immersion

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    Rectus Abdominis Handstand Drill

    Rectus Abdominis
    Handstand Drill

    The Key Component for Control

    abdominals

    RECTUS ABDOMINIS HANDSTAND DRILL

    This rectus abdominis handstand drill takes the fear out of inversions. That may be a bold statement to make, but it’s true. If you don’t have prior experience and/or training in any inversions, fear can be one of the most common barriers. The drill that Matt presents in today’s video is about intention and focus. You may have done the drill before, but have you done it like this? Drills offer an opportunity to focus on an action in your body. However, this doesn’t mean that you no longer require focus, attention, and effort as regards the other areas of focus, and drills provide more than just the development of a certain skill. They offer the confidence to move forward and progress in other ways.

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    WHAT’S THE DEAL WITH THE RECTUS ABDOMINIS?

    The rectus abdominis is a flat muscle and is the most superficial of the abdominal layers. It runs from the bottom of the sternum all the way down to the pubic bone. Its central role is to create spinal flexion. In your yoga practice, the use of the rectus abdominis shows up in forward folds. The muscle also supports your ability to stay stable in balancing and plank postures, although the deeper muscle layers take on more of that responsibility. This doesn’t mean that it’s not essential, and we are centering our focus today on the rectus abdominis handstand drill. As previously mentioned, it’s about intention and awareness and about the specific actions you take that bring the rectus abdominis more to the forefront. For example, the amount of engagement, or activation, of the rectus abdominis depends on what’s required in a specific movement or drill.

    WATCH THE VIDEO

    RECTUS ABDOMINIS HANDSTAND DRILL:  THE KEY COMPONENT FOR CONTROL

    HANDSTANDS

    You can think about what’s required in Handstand in a number of different ways. Handstands are referred to as both arm balances and inversions, and the list of what’s required may seem lengthier than for other arm balances. You can be sure, however, that Matt always has a phenomenal way of breaking things down into tiny bits so you can work through the process. Some of the areas of focus are your hands, which grip the ground; the wrist flexors; or “joint stacking.” In one of my previous articles, L Pose Handstand Training, I outline more details about the core and about how Matt shows you how to utilize your hip flexors. The conversation surrounding the rectus abdominis is another important one because it’s another opportunity to intelligently call upon a “simple” action in your body to get you closer to Handstand.

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    UNDERSTANDING THE DRILL

    The simple action in this rectus abdominis drill is to bring your ribs and pelvis closer to one another, but the action is more deliberate than simply leaning forward and allowing gravity to do the work. A level of activation is required to utilize the strength necessary for the inversion. You’ll see in the video that Matt encourages you to prioritize this action over stacking the hip and shoulder joints. This stacking can be quite intimidating at first, and the rectus abdominis drill removes this barrier. Executing this drill with a wall behind you offers even more encouragement and permission to explore kicking up into Handstand with more confidence and control. Keeping your front body shortened trains you to stay away from relying on the wall. The action may shorten your hops, but this simply means that you are successfully keeping your awareness on the rectus abdominis.

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    WHAT ELSE DO YOU NEED TO KNOW?

    Yes, going upside down is more than front-body awareness and activation; it’s also about connecting the dots. Taking an approach like this one helps clarify what’s required in Handstand as a whole posture. You are not only training your physical body but also creating an indelible mark on your nervous system that you’ll be able to call upon naturally and intuitively. In other words, the approach goes beyond being just a rectus abdominis Handstand drill. It is something you can rely on in your approach to other inversions and to how you go about putting the pieces together when exploring postures that are challenging for you.

    Matt’s current Breath of Fire Immersion goes further into how to intelligently utilize your core within your yoga practice.

    See you on the mat!

    The 200 Hr. Teacher Training: Click Here to See the Next Start Date

    The 300 Hr. Advanced Teacher Training: Click Here to See the Next Start Date

    Article by Trish Curling

    Video Extracted From: Breath Of Fire Immersion

    Yoga for Core and Breathwork

    BREATH OF FIRE

    • Moderate Vinyasa-style classes
    • Core strengthening & integration
    • Master your breath with pranayama practices
    • Access your core in arm balances, heart openers, twists, forward folds, inversions, and more
    • Learn where and how to breathe in challenging postures
    • Each class will include one pranayama (breathwork practice) and several core strengtheners
    • Access your core muscles: deep, superficial, anterior, posterior, and lateral 
    • 12 Classes: All levels appropriate
    • Lifetime unlimited access to all
    • Attend the livestream OR practice the replays any time that’s convenient for you

    $148.00

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    Headstand: Neck Relief

    Headstand: Neck Relief

    No More "Pain in the Neck"

     

    Intentional Practice

    For many years I split my yoga asana practice into two parts. On one side I dedicated my learning to the therapeutic qualities and on the other side advancing my practice. It was a while before I realized that they were one and the same and it took longer to realize that “advanced” transition could lead to greater ease and freedom. This video is born out of my understanding of what I used to consider to be just an advanced transition.

    Let’s touch briefly on the neck in headstand. I think we all know that putting our entire weight on our neck could obviously have its dangers. There are also many claimed benefits from it, some of which I agree with from my own experience. Headstand can be extremely empowering and freeing on an emotional level, and beyond that, it is a platform to build more strength and stability for the neck. In addition, going upside down in general can increase our proprioception (knowing where our body is in space). To be sure we are gaining all the benefits and not dealing with the potential downfalls of having all our weight on our neck, I find it beneficial to learn how to do headstand with our head off the ground. Some would call this forearm stand, some would argue it’s still headstand arms so it’s headstand…what you call it is not important, but having the strength and awareness definitely is beneficial.

    There are two main anatomical actions that I go over in this video:
    Elevation of the Scapula: Shoulder blades raise up toward the ears
    Extension at the Elbow Joint: The Elbow straightening.

    Elevation of the scapula is the main action in relieving neck pressure because when executed with enough strength, the head will lift off of the ground. Once you have the strength and control over the muscles that create elevation (mainly the upper fibers of the trapezius muscles) you will then have the choice of how much weight you place on your head. Trying to extend at the elbow joint can help maintain stability and balance as you elevate your scapula and can assist in rising away from the ground.

    The Actions

    In the video you will be provided with a visual demonstration of elevating the scapula with headstand arms. While you are reading this you can try elevating your scapula by shrugging your shoulders up by your ears. This action is remarkably easier when the arms are by your side in a resting position than when they are over head and bearing the weight of your body, but awareness of the action makes it a lot easier to attempt once you enter the position. Many yoga teachers will shun the idea of your shoulders rising up by the ears simply because it tends to be an unconscious pattern. Remember this pattern is not necessarily bad or good, it’s the unconscious part that is the problem. Another way to look at it is if we hold an equal and opposite pattern of elevated scapula then our shoulders would be balanced and relaxed. If you are someone whose shoulders rise toward your ears on a daily basis here are some things to consider.
    Your stress levels: If your shoulders are tensed up it could be an indication that your emotional body/nervous system is more often in the state of panic and your nervous system is sending signals to your muscles to hold tension because “something bad is going to happen.” There is no short answer for what to do but one-on-one coaching could help. I am happy to connect for a free Skype session to discuss some options with you.
    Strengthen the opposite muscles: In this case, do pull-ups and work on strengthening the muscles of depression.
    Strengthen to Release: It may sound strange but usually a muscle holding tension is not tense because it is strong, more likely because it is weak. Strengthening it can actually relax it. In this case, elevating your scapula will help strengthen the upper fibers of the trapezius muscles, and therefore could lead to releasing your neck tension!

    How to Strengthen

    There are multiple ways to strengthen the muscles that elevate the scapula and extend the elbow. In the video I offer a way to do so while approaching the pose. Dolphin pose (Down Dog on Forearms) is a great start for the more beginner practitioner. Check out the video and try the actions to feel it in your body. If you find it helpful and you are looking for more ways to strengthen your inversion practice Click Here to check out my top exercises for the arms, shoulders, wrists, and core!

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    1. Elevate Your Scapula

    Before going upside down and bearing weight, ensure that you have the range of motion in your shoulders to elevate your scapula with headstand arms – clasped fingers, bent elbows, arms overhead. Lift and lower your shoulders toward and away from your ears several times with your breath to awaken your trapezius and serratus anterior muscles. If this proves to be challenging it could be due to weakness in these muscles or tightness in the opposing muscles.  You could do some down dogs, or do the classic swimmers warm-up of windmilling one arm and then the other, backstroke is my preference. Also, check out the Handstand Training video for strength and mobility exercises for the shoulders.  

    3. Dolphin

    Take the next step by getting down into dolphin pose and working on elevating your scapula and depressing them a few times. It’s helpful to record yourself to see if you are accurately performing the action. This posture is great to work on tricep engagement. Press the outer wrists down into the ground until your feel the back of your arms tone up.

    2. Elbow Extension

    Extension of the elbow is seemingly easy when you look at it, and even when you do it without weight-bearing. However it’s not strength that usually stands in the way, but rather the ability to use the muscles for balance. This requires rapid reactivity, and the ability to feel when the body has fallen backward. The triceps in this type of headstand (less weight bearing on the neck) and forearm stand are equivalent to the fingers in a handstand, they are “the breaks” that stop you from falling. Try putting your forearm on a wall like a forearm plank, then push into the wall with the outer edge of your hand and wrist to activate the triceps. Increase the weight by walking your feet back and leaning your body more toward the wall.

    4. Tuck Headstand or Prep

    If you are confident in balancing a headstand you could then try these actions in a tuck headstand which keeps your center of gravity lower making it easier to maintain balance as you explore new techniques. Please use a wall or teacher for safety – elevating the scapula typically sends people overboard. If you aren’t yet balancing headstand, try the prep with feet on the ground shown above.

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    Neck Relief.

    There are two main reasons why elevating the scapula can help relieve the neck in a headstand. It can provide less compression on the cervical (neck) vertebrae, and it can allow for some of the stabilizer neck muscles to relax. That being said there can be benefits to strengthening the stabilizers of the neck, so doing a headstand with less elevation of the scapula isn’t inherently wrong or bad unless you are experience pain or discomfort when doing so.

    The approach to headstand relies heavily on the strength of the upper fibers of your trapezius muscles which tend to be tense but also weak in many people. The common question that arises is, “my shoulders are always up by my ears, shouldn’t I relax them?” Of course the answer is yes but there is a time and place for everything. Spend the majority of your day learning to let go of unconscious tension, and a small amount of time you spend in headstand, handstand, or forearm stand focusing on the intentional engagement of these muscles. A healthy trapezius is actually less likely to hold tension. More often than not we hold tension in muscles that we don’t have much awareness of. Tension in the way I am using the word right now is more likely the result of emotional stress than it is of too much strength or activity.

    Thank you for stopping by, I hope these tips help. If you have questions, requests, or something you would like to share about your headstand journey please submit a comment.

    -Matt

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    Double Stag Handstand

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    read more

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