Overcoming Fear On The Journey To Your First Handstand

Perhaps you’re experiencing fear of handstands.

Do you know the number one thing I realized about handstands recently?

It’s about 20% physical and THE REST IS IN YOUR MIND!

Your mind is so powerful, and it wants to protect you. It creates fear to keep you alive and this fear dictates how you move your body (or avoid moving your body) whether you’re consciously aware of it or not.

A handstanding girl talking about overcoming your fear of handstands in a safe way.

I’ve seen people who had the strength to do a handstand and certainly the conscious will power to do so, kick up into handstand and fail over and over again. Because on some subconscious level, their brain thinks it’s unsafe for them to go into that position, so they end up not kicking hard enough to get vertical or they bail out before giving themselves a chance to balance. Their mind is instinctively blocking them from achieving the handstand.

Maybe you recognize this sensation in yourself? If you do, it probably means you’re experiencing fear of handstands on a conscious or subconscious level that you need to work with in order to overcome.

But don’t worry – I’ve seen many people overcome that fear. You just need to be willing to deal with your fear of handstands with patience and take small steps to expand your comfort zone and go at your own pace.

How to overcome your fear of handstands

Luckily, there are ways to eliminate your fear or at least diminish it to a point where it feels manageable.

The most effective approach to eliminate your fear is to systematically expose yourself to the thing that scares you – starting small and building tolerance as you work your way up. You don’t want to force yourself to do anything too drastic because that could be counterproductive and make you more afraid.

When it comes to handstand that means practicing in a way where you slowly build up experience and confidence with handstands as you go along.

Work incrementally to get stronger, more flexible, do many progressions on the road to handstands to build the proprioception and body awareness in the pose. This will give you more stability and control once you actually practice the handstand.

An example is instead of going straight to trying an L-shaped handstand with your feet on the wall, start by placing your hands on the ground and stepping your feet onto blocks to raise the floor level a little bit and invert a tiny amount. Next step your feet onto a stair step, then a low chair or couch. You get what I’m saying.

Build it up slowly, take as many steps as you need to get yourself fully inverted into a handstand.

Handstand on a wooden jetty in San Marcos, Guatemala

Handstand Roadmap

In my opinion, the optimal handstand journey is following a long step-by-step roadmap. Even though you probably want to skip steps and learn handstands ASAP, the step-by-step journey gets you there faster because every progression prepares you (physically AND mentally) for the next.

Skipping steps might lead to injury or unproductive practice habits. Why is practice so effective? Because confidence has a direct correlation with competence.

Step-by-step handstand journey

Step 1

Make sure you’re physically strong and mobile/flexible enough to do a handstand. Working on the foundational strength and mobility for handstand is key because knowing that your body is strong enough to do a handstand is a great start to gain confidence and lower your fear.

If your body knows you’re not strong enough to support yourself in a position, it will probably do a lot to convince you not to try to go there. BUT having the strength and mobility down is the first step to feeling confident with handstands.

Step 2

Build muscle memory in the straight line handstand shape BEFORE even thinking about going upside down. You can do this lying on your belly or your back by holding a hollowbody shape. This will make you have so much more body awareness once you actually try out the handstand and you’ll trust your capability way more because you’re familiar with the shape you’re going into.

Confidence comes from competence, so the better you can prepare the more confident you will be once you go upside down.

Step 3

Go upside down with a lot of support – using the support of the wall, a spotter, or both. This means you don’t have to worry about balancing, you can just focus on holding your shape, breathing, and getting used to the sensation of being upside down.

Being inverted with support helps you build the body awareness in the inverted position. You will slowly gain confidence and proprioception in the pose and eventually it will feel natural to be upside down on your hands. When it does, you’re ready to move on to the next step.

Downward facing dog on the wall as handstand preparation exercise

Step 4

Learn to fall safely. Knowing that you can fall out of a handstand without hurting yourself is a huge game changer!

I mean ACTUALLY LETTING YOURSELF FALL ON PURPOSE (with a spotter if needed) and landing safely on the ground will eliminate almost all of the remaining fear.

The safest way to fall out of a handstand is by doing a cartwheel out of the handstand when you feel like you’re falling over to your back side. This is also known as the bail-out method. It helped me tremendously to practice it over and over again because now I know my body instinctively knows how to bail out every time I’m about to fall over in a handstand.

Step 5

Practice free-standing handstands safely and without fear.

When you’ve reached this step your body knows exactly where it’s going and it knows how to safely fall out of the handstand again.

By having slowly built up to the free-standing handstand you will have become much more confident in your abilities with every next step on the journey. Every new step gets your body and your brain more prepared for the handstand and the more experience you gain with the handstand, the less fear you will have.

Camilla standing on her hands in a handstand with a straight line.

Motivational quote..

In case you’re needing a motivation to deal with your fear of handstands, here’s a quote by Eleanor Roosevelt:

You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”

– Eleanor Roosevelt 

Perhaps you’ve followed all of the steps above and still got stuck somewhere in the process because your fear is holding you back. That’s super natural and there are definitely steps of the journey where the fear is a huge thing we need to deal with. The best you can do is to be patient with yourself and keep exposing yourself to your fear a little bit at a time in a safe environment.

For some people the fear is bigger than for others. The fear is there for a reason and handstands definitely can be unsafe if we don’t practice intentionally or if we try to skip steps on the journey. 

Taking a bad fall

Fear doesn’t have to have anything to do with our skill level. It can also come from the past traumas. Like if we’ve taken a bad fall before – it’s can feel like your body remembers and that the fear sits somewhere in your body.

My Fall Story

In my acrobatics practice I once fell out of a trick and landed directly on my head with a lot of force. My brain went into survival mode, so I don’t even remember falling I just remember the loud crunching sound at the base of my skull and being completely confused about how I ended up on the ground.

I was lucky not to hurt myself worse – I came out without any broken bones or spinal cord but with a very tense and locked neck for about a week. Months later when finally trying the same trick again my body remembered the dangerous incident and I kept bailing out of the trick (even though I tried not to) because I was afraid.

I’ve since overcome that fear by going back to the foundations and doing lots and lots of progressions to regain my confidence with the movement before trying the trick again.

If you’re dealing with something similar I recommend slowly getting back on the horse again. Take baby steps and do all the progressions to built up to the handstand so you can deal with your fear in small bits at a time. 

The more experience you gain with practicing handstand (safely!), the more the fear will go away because the nervous system will learn that you can control your body in that position.

A girl kicking into a handstand at a scenic view overlooking the mountains in Spain

Tricking your brain

Our brain can be irrationally stubborn when it comes to fear. Sometimes we can have all the prerequisites down to a T but our brain still thinks the movement we’re trying to do is dangerous. 

But we can trick the brain into believing it’s safe for us to kick up into handstand.

One of the most effective ways is to send a signal to the brain that your body is totally safe and this handstand thing is perfectly cool. You can do that by stabilizing the joints by engaging the big stabilizing muscles.

I’m talking about the serratus anterior for the shoulders (located at the sides of the chest, aka. the wings), the wrist flexors and extensors for the wrists, the transverse abdominis (located at the lower belly), glutes, and the hip adductors (located by the inner thighs) for the low back and knees.

When these muscles aren’t firing, the mind cleverly knows that the body is at risk, and will say “No way is this happening!” But when you can get these muscles activated, it tells the mind that the body is in control and it can chill out.

Camilla handstanding in front of a blue wall with eagle leg variation from yoga

Self-limiting beliefs

Often times we are held back by self-limiting beliefs that we don’t even notice we have. Sometimes they’re disguised as “rational fears” because we’ve convinced ourselves that of the fact that we’re not “good/strong/flexible/…” enough to handstand.

Ask yourself: what is holding me back from practicing handstands?

Write down the worst thing that could happen in your handstand practice. Then make sure you practice in a way (e.g. with a spotter) so you know that the worst thing that could realistically happen isn’t that bad.

Like if you practice with a spotter, the worst thing that could realistically happen (if the spotter is competent) is that you fall and they catch you and return you safely to the ground.

That doesn’t sound too scary, does it? 

Overcoming our fear of handstands can teach us so much

In my opinion, the fear aspect of practicing handstand is part of what makes it such a transformative journey!

The more we tackle things that scare us, the more we realize that we didn’t need to be scared in the first place. The more we confront our self-limiting belief, the more freedom and possibilities become open to us. 

Handstands teach us to work our way up to face things that scare us. We develop bravery with every obstacle that’s overcome, and we can then apply the bravery to similar situations, or situations that are supposedly less risky than things we’ve already tackled.

Are you dealing with fear of handstands in your practice? Leave a comment down below and let’s have a chat!

As always, happy handstanding!

I’m rooting for you.
xo Cami

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *