Handstands-Center, The Pelvis and the Psoas

Handstands and Controlling Center


Center

Previously I was talking about the middle position, a position of the body, that gives us the most possibility given what we are doing at the time.


The Psoas

Another way that we can practice being centered is to focus on feeling and controlling our pelvis. One of the ways that we can control our pelvis is via a muscle called the psoas. Actually this muscle can be used to control more than just the pelvis. It can be used to control the spine and its relationship to the thighs and legs.

If we view the ribcage and pelvis as extensions of the spine, extra large levers that we can use to change the shape of the spine or maintain its shape, then using the psoas we can change the relationship between the ribcage-pelvis and legs.


Controlling Center

Because the belly of the psoas extends to the space that is within the pelvis we an often “feel” and control the pelvis and psoas as one unit.

Since our center of gravity is usually located within our pelvis (it depends on what posture we are assuming at the time) this can be quite handy. What it means is that if we control our pelvis, and our psoas, then we control our center of gravity.

If we can position our center of gravity over our foundation then we can balance. This is true whether we are standing on our hands, on our feet, on our head or even on our forearms. When our center is over our foundation, and assuming there are no other forces in play other than that of gravity, then we are balanced.

Using our psoas to help control our pelvis and center can make it easier to balance.


Using Our Center to Lead

When we are standing on our feet, we can use our legs to move our pelvis and in turn we can use our pelvis to drive the movement of our upper body. When we are on our hands we can use our arms, shoulders and ribcage to move our pelvis and then we can use our pelvis to move our legs.

When we are on our hands, so that we can give our pelvis a stable foundation, we need to use our hands, shoulders, and abs. So that we can control the relationship between our pelvis and our legs, as well as the relationship between our spine and our legs, we need to use the psoas.


Activating the Side Gluteals

To make using the psoas easier we can use our side glutes. These are the muscles at the sides of the pelvis that move the thigh bones outwards. They are the glute medius and minimus and also another muscles, the tensor fascae latae which pulls the thighs outwards as well as causing the legs to internally rotate slightly. These muscles can also be used to both flex and extend the thigh. Using these “functions” together they can also help to stabilize the thigh.

For our purpose we can activate them by trying to pull the thighs outwards. We thus help to stabilize the thighs relative to the pelvis and we also give the psoas some resistance against which it can then pull the thighs inwards.


Activating the Psoas

Once we’ve activated our side glutes one of the ways that we can make it easier to activate the psoas, is to focus on feeling our kidneys and in addition make them feel full. This involves tilting the pelvis back far enough that the lower back is straight. But rather than just making the lumbar spine straight, adjust the position of the pelvis so that the back of the waist feels full. Keep this feeling while jumping.

In addition keep the side glutes active while jumping and as you jump focus on “closing” the thighs to the stomach or chest.

It can feel like you are resisting this action even as you are doing it.

You may also notice a sense of your awareness being inside your belly as you do this. For myself it literally feels like I am pulling my pelvis forwards and up from the inside.


Final Notes

If you watch the videos and pay attention to the orientation of my spine you’ll notice that the times I get up and stay up the longest-even getting up into handstand, are the times when my spine is nearly vertical. My shoulders are over my hips.

When practicing, first get your shoulders ahead of your hands. From there, then get your hips/pelvis over your shoulders. Then you upper body will be in front of your hands and they then balance your legs which are behind your hands.

If from here you move up into full handstand, then as you lift your legs, brings your shoulders back slowly so that they are over your hands.


Videos-Large View

Handstands and Controlling Center

Handstands-The Middle Position

Practicing the “Middle Position”

In martial arts, the middle position is a place where we have the most options available to us. Depending on our environment, our opponent or our partner and even ourselves, our middle position may vary.


Being Able to Respond to Change

Generally whenever we respond to a change we have to leave the middle position. If after having responded to a change we return to the middle, we are then ready to handle any new changes as they occur. Being in the middle position makes it easier to respond to a change no matter where it comes from or what form it takes. Being in the middle gives us options, possibilities. If we continually return to the middle after having ventured away from it, we can be ready to handle new change.


Being Able to Create Change

If we are creating change without having to worry about external factors then finding the middle position, and returning to it, we can continue to create change and we can be fully flexible in the change that we create. To create the change that we desire we need to be in a position that is stable, balanced.

Even if we are moving to a position that is unstable, starting from a position that is stable will allow us to move to the new position more easily.

The middle position is the stable center that we can start from.


Having Options

In handstands, the middle position or middle handstand is a position from which we can do the most things. If we jump up into a handstand and keep our legs at the same level as the pelvis with knees either straight, bent or just slightly bent, and we can balance, then from this position we can easily pull our legs up into full handstand. We can also drop down with control into chataranga dandasana (A push up position with the elbows bent.) We can lower our feet to the floor between our hands as if jumping forwards from down dog. We can even swing our legs through our hands so that we end up sitting.

Practicing the middle position we make it easier for ourselves to do handstand, we also make it easier to do Ashtanga style sun salutations, Vinyasas, and Arm Balances as well. As an example of the latter, from the middle position we could lower down into Bakasana.

Going into the middle position we give ourselves the option of moving into anyone of these poses should we choose. Or we can simply hold it.


Moving into the Middle and Out of it

In the video I jump into middle position and from there alternate putting my feet down or pulling them up. This is an exercise I can use in my classes to teach the benefits and flexibility of this position.

In the video, I don’t quite actually make the middle position on my first jump… bad teacher! On the last jump I swing my legs through my hands… only my feet get stuck along the way! Oh well.

I could have crossed my ankles to have given myself the clearance but didn’t. If I ever do get the jump through then I would like to do it with my legs straight and ankles uncrossed and so not crossing my ankles is the way I am working towards that.

As a final note, If we can move into this position and hold it we are more likely to be able to maintain balance or a floating like quality even as we move out of it. Also, in the video I jump into it from down dog. We can also pull up into it from the forward bend position.


Video Enlarged

Practicing the “Middle Position”

Jumping Back to Chatarunga-A Variation on Handstand

Jumping back 6

Jumping back 1

Jumping back 9

Jumping back 2

Jumping back 13

Jumping back 3

Jumping back 26

Jumping back 4

If we pull up into a half handstand from a forward bend we can then reach our upper body forwards as we bend our elbows so that as our legs go back we keep our center over our hands. We can then gently land in Chatarunga Dandasana because we are balanced.


Keep Pelvis Over Hands

If you look at the pictures you can see that my pelvis stays over my hands until the very last instance when I then move it back. When jumping the longer we can keep our pelvis over our hands the longer we can stay balanced and the softer we can land.


Use Hands to Feel Center of Gravity

So that we know that our center is over our hands we can use our hands to feel where our center is. Whether jumping forwards (from down dog) or backwards (to chatarunga), to float, we have to feel where our balance point is and keep it over our hands.

Key elements in doing this are using the hands to feel where our center is as well as using them to help control our relationship with the earth. We can also use our shoulders to help position our center relative to our hands. As for our center, we can consider our pelvis and legs as one unit which we then have to balance on top of our shoulders and hands. If we move our pelvis relative to our hands then our center of gravity moves with it.

While in this video I do lift up with the legs bent, the same principles apply if lifting the legs with the knees straight. We can use our hands to feel where our center is. We can then use our shoulders to position our upper body and we can move the pelvis to orient the upper body so that we are balanced.


Position Pelvis So that Spine is Vertical

When pulling up, once we have our shoulders ahead of our hands, we can focus on pulling our pelvis forwards so that it is over our hands. If we go even further we can get it over our shoulders (not shown.) In this position we may find it easier to find our balance and keep it. From there we can then easily stay balanced as we bend the elbows and then reach the legs back while reaching the chest forwards.

Although I don’t do this in the video, pulling the pelvis over the shoulders once the feet are up gives a longer hang time. It isn’t necessary but it is an option.


Jumping Back from Bakasana

As a way of practicing this feeling, you can try jumping back from Bakasana into Chataranga. This isn’t shown in the video but the feeling is similar. While in Bakasana you can lift your knees off of your arms, reach your chest forwards and your legs back at the same time.

Keep your center over your hands while doing this so that you stay balanced for as long as possible.


Video Enlarged