I consider the Handstand Dimension the “magic of yoga” because its development allows the student to achieve gravity defying feats. The name of this dimension is deceiving because it doesn’t just mean achieving handstand asanas but more so the strength of the whole body whilst the hands are on the floor. Defining the process as a “dimension” expands its meaning more than just handstand and upperbody strength but it begins there. This dimension has been very challenging for me and “generally” for female yoga students, even though I think females who exceed do so with much more grace than males. This dimension has been challenging for me because of past shoulder injuries but it has allowed me rehabilitate my shoulder to the point I have achieved some handstand abilities I would have not been able achieve without the Bheemashakti Method. Some ability land marks of this dimension include but not limited to Sun Salutations, downward facing dog, bakasana, handstand without support, and Vinyasa Kriya (ie. jump through abilities, “floating”, advanced transitions between asanas). The vinyasa kriya are the advanced abilities that combine upper body strength, core strength, and flexibility. A well documented series of yoga sequences made international by Sri Pattabi Jois showcases these abilities as transitions between the asasas.
Building Upper Body Strength: 2 Foundational Exercises
The foundation of the handstand dimension involves building upper body strength in the shoulders and arms. The development of this dimension creates fear in many yoga students that have a desire to gain mastery. I believe a common “blunder” is to attempt to control the fear before developing the strength in the body. Instead of trying to use mental techniques to decrease the fear I think it is more important to increase the strength first. Fear is needed to protect the body for harm and I think a reasonable level of fear is very important. As we develop strength in the upper body the student will be more comfortable and confident in his/her abilities. Eventually as the student gradually develops this comfort combined with increase upper body strength the fear naturally begins to fade.
The upper body strength is developed by the first 2 foundational exercises.
The first is Beginning Handstand with wall support. This involves walking the feet up the wall (if not possible there are preliminary exercises) with hands on the ground separating the feet about 3 ft apart. This is the basic handstand position. We eventually develop 100 kapalabathi breaths in this position until 3 sets of this exercise is achieved. Kapalabathi breaths are used as a tool to strength the body in this position which is bases behind the theory of the Bheemashakti Yoga Method.
The second foundational exercise is the Kick Up Exercise. This involves kicking up in to handstand with only one leg in the air then immediately coming back down. Repeat 10 times if possible. After a short rest the opposite leg is done. Increasing to 3 sets.
3rd Stage Exercise
These two foundational exercises are to prepare the student to achieve the landmark 3rd Stage Exercise. This is the most important exercise because it will prepare the student for all the following advanced abilities and exercises. It is also used as a warm up for more advanced students. This exercise will also be where the student will begin to practice balancing away from the wall for the first time.
This exercise involves kicking up one foot to the wall in handstand while the other leg is away from the wall. The foot on the wall supports the handstand while the positioning of the legs enables more stable balancing in the beginning stages. Developing 100 kapalabhati breaths in each position is much more difficult in exercise because the complete body weight is placed directly over the arms and hands. Once you achieve 100 breaths on each side (200 kapalabhati breaths) and then 3 sets (600 kapalabhati breathes) you have completed building a foundation of handstand strength! During this development the student would have also practiced balancing without the wall.
The expansion exercises involve an infinite number of varying exercises that develop mastery and abilities related to the Handstand Dimension. These exercises depend on which abilities the students want to achieve. A subset of expansion exercises can be those to achieve Vinyasa Kriya abilities mentioned above. The development of these abilities include, but are not limited to, developing the strength of the arms while the arms while not above the head. For example, while sitting placing the hands on the ground next to you and lifting your body off the ground. This is advanced and involves more than just upper body and arm strength but includes core strength and body flexibility. One foundation exercise of Vinyasa Kriya is the Swing Exercise. Using one foot high blocks we place our hands on them lifting the body and swing our body back and forth about 20 times. The second exercise involves just lifting the body up using the yoga props and working up to about 50 kapalabhati breathes. This is just the beginning of vinyasa kriya abilities.
There are many other exercises and combining other dimensions with the handstand dimension. Basically, skies’ the limit! Let us begin by building a foundation of the handstand dimension. Without this foundation the advanced abilities will not be possible.
Jonathan Patriarca, founder of Bheemashakti Yoga System, has been a long time practitioner of yoga. With a firm background in medicine, as a registered nurse, he has also had the honor of studying with masters like Pattabi Jois, David Swensen, Ganga White, Rudra Dev, and his most recent teacher H.R. Suresh. Through his studies under H.R. Suresh, in India for five years, Jonathan was introduced to the ancient system of progressively opening and strengthening through kriya and kapalabhati techniques. Jonathan is the only Westerner to bring this system to the West and to have further developed it to make yoga accessible to all body types accelerating the opening, strengthening, and energizing of all bodies within a short period of time. Jonathan currently lives in San Diego, California where he has a loyal following of successful Bheemashakti practitioners.