In my post Upside down breathing - why you are gasping like a fish out of water, I covered the mechanics of breathing and why being in an inverted position makes something we do every day all day, without even thinking about it, suddenly quite laborious. Now I am going to add another difficulty into the mix.
When you are doing a handstand your arms are pushing your body up off the floor and doing so requires strong muscles and a properly aligned body. This alignment, combined with the muscular force necessary to maintain this alignment, makes it very difficult to expand the chest outwards and impossible to expand the chest upwards since we are already fully extended with our shoulders up near the ears. Good alignment requires keeping the rib cage closed and I’ll talk more about this in my post The path to the perfect handstand alignment (or as close as you’re going to get) which is coming soon. Sign up for my newsletter so you will never miss a post or the opportunity to join me for a challenge!
In my post, Why handstands are so HARD and what you can do about it,I mentioned breath control being a critical factor if you want to hold a handstand for more than three seconds. This is where we figure out what that means for our handstand practice routine.
How to practice breathing in a handstand?
Get into a handstand with the wall for support. I suggest practicing with your stomach facing the wall because it helps to reinforce proper positioning and alignment. See my post on Proper handstand alignment coming soon to make sure you are on the right track. Did I mention that you can sign up for my newsletter?
Now begin to count your breaths in your head. Try to breath slowly and with minimal body movement. When I examine videos of my torso in a handstand I see my abdomen expanding but I do not see any chest expansion.
How many breaths you start with depends on many factors, so you will need to just for your personal fitness level and handstand level. A complete beginner will probably start with three breaths. After these breaths, come down from your handstand and KEEP BREATHING SLOWLY! The same rules apply as for exercise 2, which I describe in my post Two game changing breathing exercises and which I highly recommend practicing if you are serious about improving your handstand endurance. If you need to gulp for air then you stayed up there too long for the purposes of this exercise. Scale back, give yourself a break and remember, little steps get you there too and you might be able to enjoy the sunshine along the way.
Work up slowly to more and more breaths. You will also be contending with increased muscle fatigue as you learn to hold the position longer and build endurance in the shoulders. You will even probably start shaking at some point. If it is your last attempt for the day, then by all means stay a little longer through the shaking if you can maintain calm breathing. Come down before your arms give out and you end up in a pile on the floor with a sore head. Yes, this has happened to me and I was forced to admit that determination and positive mindset are not always going to be enough. Some things just take time.
I will say that in my career I have performed several partner acrobatic acts where I held handstands while balanced in someone else’s hands. I tended to hold my breath as I got into the handstand position and then forget to start breathing. Eventually I would be able to shift my focus from maintaining my position and remember to breathe. This would probably start with a loud exhale releasing the pressure of my held breath and wanting to quickly reduce the CO2 and get as much oxygen in my lungs as quickly as possible. When I look back on this now I see that I was just asking to get tired more quickly and less efficient for the next trick that was coming up. I knew how to control my breath during the dance and movement that was in between the tricks but not at all while upside down. I would definitely put an emphasis on breath training if I were to start doing this kind of act again. Read Two game changing breathing exercises next to find out how you can get better at breathing in a handstand without doing a handstand!
My name is Laura Smith and I am a professional acrobat.