Pilates for Yogis: How Chair Can Help with Handstand

Fuse Pilates instructor Jen René joins the blog for a series of guest posts to explore the ways that Pilates enhances her yoga practice. Jen is the co-founder of Ashtanga Dispatch and the director of the Mysore Program at Flow Yoga Center in Washington, DC. Jen has also been a Pilates practitioner and teacher for more than 10 years and credits Pilates not only for her abs, but also for keeping her in line in yoga. She tells all of her yoga students that navasana just isn't enough. Wellness dominates Jen's life and she credits yoga and Pilates with the essence of her happiness - find out more in today's post!

Meet Jen! She teaches Fuse reformer classes Thursdays at noon.

Photo by Meghan Powell Photography

The pushup on the Wunda Chair taught me how to press into a handstand. No, I’m not kidding. I've been practicing yoga for 13 years and Pilates for 11 years. I started working out regularly on the Wunda Chair five years ago, and within two weeks I could press into a handstand. This is after trying without the help of the chair for nearly five years! Granted, I had already done a lot of work in my yoga practice and I was getting very close, but Pilates is what got me the rest of the way there.

Practicing my forearm stand.

In fact, I've found that I draw on my Pilates practice quite frequently when practicing yoga. Through Pilates, I've learned to hug my midline, reach through my legs, stabilize my shoulders, hollow out my low belly and tap into my deepest abdominal strength. There are no shortcuts to these difficult movements, but practicing them regularly has helped me deepen my yoga practice each and every time I step on the mat. This blog is the first in a series of posts where I'll share my experience using Pilates to enhance my yoga practice. I'll cover principles and exercises on a variety of apparatus. First up: practicing pushups on the chair to (finally!) press into a handstand on the mat. If you've never tried the chair class at Fuse, you're in for a treat. No, chairs aren't just for sitting. Chair is one of the most challenging offerings at the studio! See for yourself: Nothing beats the chair for mimicking the movements you need to nail arm balances. To find success with a handstand on the mat, the pushup exercise on the Wunda Chair was just what I needed to achieve a breakthrough. The move teaches you how to stabilize your scapula and round the trunk into a pike position. You can’t do this unless you scoop in your abs VERY deeply. The pedal on the chair makes it easier to float the feet up. Spring resistance eases the legs up, which makes it easier to move the pelvis towards the ceiling and allows you to shift your body weight into your hands. The chair helps to create the sensation that you are levitating upward. Yes, it’s true the springs are doing some of the work for you, but this work trains your body. Your muscles learn the movement and it can be translated onto your mat. Pilates emphasizes scapular stabilization, which helps you activate your upper back and shoulder muscles to avoid sinking through the shoulders. Your rhomboids and serratus will be engaged to achieve this - check out the flexion in my upper back. So, as it turns out, handstands actually don’t have a whole lot to do with the hands - or even the arms for that matter. Like most yoga and Pilates moves, the "secret" is full body integration. Core, back, arms, legs - all the muscles we focus on in our Pilates classes at Fuse - everything has to be coordinated to find the coveted handstand press up. Once you are able to integrate your body - your front side into your back side and pulling everything into your midline - finding a handstand become much easier.
Pilates for Yogis Handstand


Next time we'll explore the reformer. Stay tuned! Check out more videos by Jen on her Instagram page. Ready to give chair a try? We have a 2 for $25 new student special! Sign up online.  

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