Handstands may be pinned as one of the most challenging yoga poses; and while it certainly showcases a yogi's strength, there are several other, more complex poses that require a combination of strength and flexibility.
After years of daily dedicated practice, some yogis transition from barely being able to touch their toes to looping their legs around their head in a pretzel-like twist. Here are some of the most difficult yoga poses that can take years to master.
1. Wounded Peacock (Pungu Mayurasana)
Peacock pose is one of the most difficult, but wounded peacock requires even more strength. In this pose, most of your body weight will be supported by your wrists and elbows.
HOW TO DO IT: Your palms are grounded on a flat surface with your fingers facing toward your feet and elbows resting against your abdomen. Your torso is balanced on your elbows, knees bent to your sides as you slowly lean forward, extending your legs outward so that they are almost straight.
Hold the pose steady — legs never touch the ground. Release one arm and balance on the other, and now you're in wounded peacock.
2. Visvamitra’s Pose (Visvamitrasana)
Imagine holding all your body weight with one hand and supporting it using the bridge of the foot, facing toward the sky. That's this pose, named after a King Visvamitra who became a yogic sage. Visvamitrasana requires arm strength and hip, shoulder and hamstring flexibility.
HOW TO DO IT: It starts with your back leg in a standing position. Your bottom arm is used as a balance while your torso and top arm are in a side-bend position. There are other variations of this pose in seated and supine positions. Extended side angle and compass pose are good prep poses to perfect Visvamitrasana.
3. Pigeon Pose (Kapotasana)
Successfully performing King Pigeon requires mastering a series of other Pigeon poses first. Many people are first introduced to the pigeon series in Sleeping Pigeon, where you fold your torso over your shin that's parallel to the top of your hip with the other leg extended behind you.
HOW TO DO IT: Though Sleeping Pigeon is a hip opener, it begins the series of challenging your body in many ways. Though they target different areas of the body, Sleeping Pigeon is a good mental prep for the full King Pigeon, which is one of the deepest backbends in yoga. Bridge, Upward Bow, Two-Legged Inverted Staff pose and One-Legged King Pigeon pose are all part of preparation to master the full expression.
4. One-Handed Tree Pose (Eka Hasta Vrksasana)
There's Downward-Facing Tree Pose — or simply Handstand — then there's One-Handed Tree Pose — aka One-Handed Handstand. The power of the handstand allows the yogi to engage and strengthen every muscle and joint in their body, while sharpening concentration, increasing confidence and expanding internal and external awareness.
HOW TO DO IT: Before you attempt one-handed handstands, it's best to ease your way in by using a wall or person as a supportive prop. Eventually, you'll be able to rise into the pose with more control and without a wall. Then, when you're comfortable with holding a handstand (usually after a few years), it may be time to release one finger at a time until your hand is able to lift.
5. Handstand Scorpion (Taraksvasana)
This pose is where the most advanced inversion meets the most advanced backbend. Before mastering the full expression, it's best to have a strong handstand and flexible backbend.
HOW TO DO IT: Most yogis learn by using a wall to find their center of gravity and gain confidence and familiarity. It may take years to master getting the toes to meet the crown of the head.
6. Yoga Sleep Pose (Yoganidrasana)
Look like one of your favorite snacks by folding yourself into a knotted pretzel-like shape. This is one of the oldest yoga postures that stretches the deep muscles of the spine and hamstrings as the legs are wrapped behind the head.
HOW TO TO IT: This pose requires extreme flexibility of the hips and back more than strength. Prep for this Yoganidrasana in simple lying-down hip opening poses, like happy baby.
What Do YOU Think?
Do any of these poses peak your interest? These poses take not only years to master, but consistent daily dedication. With persistence, almost everyone can achieve these poses. However, it's more important to be patient and mindful with yourself in the process, being aware the it takes a different length of time for every yogi.
Every body is different, and not every body type is anatomically capable of all advanced poses. And to remind yourself that the pose is not the goal, but to find true strength, flexibility, balance and calmness of mind is.