In Viparita chakrasana, shoulder control is the key to building the foundation. You may find it easier to balance if you learn to control your shoulders in any inversion poses. To stabilize the shoulder blades and the ribcage, you have to activate and strengthen the serratus anterior muscles
A number of muscles are attached to the scapula that helps stabilise it. The most important one is the serratus anterior muscle, attached to the outer sides of the upper eight ribs, with muscle fibres extending backward from the ribs to the inner side of the scapula (shoulder blades) at the medial border. This muscle helps to keep the edge of the scapula closest to the spine down against the ribcage, to resist the shoulder blades from pulling together and to keep them away from the spine when it contracts, as in plank and chaturanga. It also helps stabilising the shoulder girdle and expanding the ribcage for a stable foundation. You can activate and strengthen the serratus anterior muscle by doing the cow and cat pose, but keep in mind not to bend or arch your spine to lift or lower your ribcage. You can also get the same benefits from the dolphin pose.
If you have difficulties practising Viparita chakrasana, my suggestion is to divide the posture into the following stages:
1. L-shaped handstand
3. Scorpion in handstand
4. Urdhva dhanurasana
L-shaped handstand is harder to do than the ordinary handstand because the centre of gravity will be in front of your hands, instead of over your foundation. When you practise L-shaped handstand, sit near the wall, stretch your legs forward and mark the point where the ankles fall; place your hands on that point and walk your feet on the wall until your center of gravity (hips) is over your hands.
Press your legs slowly against the wall and push your pelvis and ribcage away while feeling the weight with your hands. You may notice a change in pressure on your hands. As your body moves forward, the pressure will increase on your fingertips. For easiest balance, my suggestion is positioning your weight over the roots of your fingers.
For lifting into handstand, please refer to the article in the April issue of Asana. For jumping into handstand from downward facing dog, engage your abs, lift your heels, bend your knees and sink your pelvis slightly down. With an inhale, gently push your feet against the floor and jump with both legs, and at the same time rock forward with your shoulder over your hands. While jumping, focus on stabilising the shoulder and keep pulling your hips forward and upward (just above your hands or slightly in front of them). Keep your legs extended towards the ceiling, which can be challenging in the beginning, so you may need to practise kicking into handstand first.
For kicking into handstand from downward facing dog, align your shoulder with your hands and shift your weight over. Step forward with your right leg and allow the knee to bend, then straighten it and swing your left leg up slowly and smoothly. At the same time, gently kick with your right leg, square your hips and extend your both legs. Feel the centre and try to balance equally on both hands, and press your weight down on them just at the base of the fingers.
From handstand, press your hands down with control on the mat to stabilise the shoulders. With an inhale, pull your (sternum) chest forward and bring it towards your chin as in upward facing dog, imagine pulling your chest out and down through the shoulders
As you lower your legs on the floor (urdhva dhanurasana), bring your hips backward as far as possible for counter balance. Lift your lower back and bend both knees; keep the knees hip wide but bring the big toes together towards your head. Do not dwell on how far down your feet go.
As your feet come closer to your head, keep your gaze forward and upward so you can open your chest and lift your head. Relax the upper back as you engage the back of your legs while bending. Remember, the goal is not to touch your head like in scorpion.
From scorpion, keep lifting your tailbone by strongly pressing your hands on the mat. Gaze forward and lower the legs further behind you with knees bending. Allow your feet to drop on the mat, land on your toes first and then on your heels. Once landed, take a breath and walk your feet as far out as possible. You can then work on using your legs to push your body in the direction of your hands (away from your feet), while still keeping your shoulder blades spread and lifted.
From urdhva dhanurasana, walk back to the point where you landed when you dropped your legs from scorpion. People often make the mistake here by walking the feet too close to their hands to flip, which may cause too much compression on the shoulder and lower back. So remember to keep a healthy distance and try to bring as much weight forward as possible and stabilise the shoulder blades. With an inhale, push your chest out and down towards the mat. When you are ready to exhale, hop up and down a few times. In the beginning, do not try to come all the way up but just to get a feeling of the centre. It may take a few times to find it, therefore be patient and practise the hopping for some time. Remember, it is the hips, but not the legs, that help you flip and carry you over. So while you are flipping, bend your knees and think about lifting your hips rather than your feet and legs.
As you hop, push your hips up and forward over your shoulders and your chest to the same point where in scorpion, it is the moment just before you are forced to drop your legs down. You do not have to hop all the way up but just to catch that point. Once you have found the point of balance, draw your legs closer to your body and carefully release the arching of the back by lifting the hips, then the knees and finally the feet (back to handstand).
Overcome the Fear
is the biggest obstacle in practising Viparita chakrasana. We are never quite sure how far our feet are away from the mat behind us. If you find it difficult to drop back to urdhva dhanurasana, use the wall until you feel confident to practise in the centre of the room.
Flip from Viparita Dandasana
Your first task is to get used to flipping in Viparita dandasana (inverted staff pose). Then next is to learn to feel and control your body in viparita chakrasana.
If you still lack confidence, consider putting some large firm cushions (Guruji Andiappan’s Sugatha Prop) near the wall for dropping onto. You may start with several cushions and then take one away each time until you can flip directly from the mat.
Kick into Handstand
Align your shoulders with your hands when you kick into handstand, sqare your hips, then extend your leg and swing it upward. Kick with both legs if possible, and gradually work on kicking the pelvis up higher and higher.
Move the Shoulders over the Wrists
As you kick up, move your shoulders slightly in front of your wrists. Then move them back over your wrists as your legs pass horizontal.
Move your Chest Forward
Notice how as you walk in, your chest will come forward. This is the key to dropping out of handstand and hopping back up again.
Take your Time
Proceed slowly to feel comfortable at each stage of this yoga inversion and to feel your body and control it as necessary. This also helps you identify the weaker areas that need more attention and extra practice.