Confession: I’m a fitness editor and I’ve never done a headstand. Yeah, never.
I do yoga pretty regularly, and I like to consider myself well-versed in the practice: Warrior II? Chair Pose? Full bind? You got it! But any time the instructor calls for this intimidating inversion, I freeze. (Yeah, I’ll just hang over here in child’s pose, thanks!)
I’m definitely curious to try headstand, after all, it feels like one of those poses you have to achieve to be considered a true yogi. But for some reason, when I think about flipping my body upside down with that much weight in my head, I picture snapping my spine in half and collapsing onto my sweaty yoga mat. (Too, dramatic? Well, welcome to my nightmare.)
My only consolation is, when I look around the room at my fellow classmates, most people are sitting out of headstand pose, too.
Which brings me to my next question: How does one actually master headstand? Is it worth it? And am I a total failure if I never do this pose?
For some answers, I consulted Heather Peterson, certified yoga instructor and chief yoga officer at CorePower Yoga.
- What’s the point of headstand?
- Before you try to do headstand…
- Work your way up to headstand.
- How to do a headstand
- Remember you’re not a failure if headstand isn’t your thing.
- 7 Yoga Poses To Prepare For Headstand
- 1. Downward Facing Dog
- 2. High Plank
- 3. Dolphin Plank
- 4. Dolphin Pose
- 5. Headstand Prep
- 6. One-Legged Headstand
- 7. Headstand Against the Wall
- Sirsasana Variations – Headstand Pose
- Salamba Sirsasana I – Supported Headstand
- Salamba Sirsasana II – Tripod Headstand
- Salamba Sirsasana III – Supported Headstand
- Niralamba Sirsasana
- How to Safely Practice Headstand
- Yoga Headstand for Beginners
- A beginner’s guide to headstands
- Tamara Jones, aka @tammyrara
- Headstand 10 Things You Need To Know
- Headstands: 10 Things You Need To Know
- 1. What is Headstand (Shirshasana)?
- 2. What happens – Physiology of Headstand?
- 3. Why should you do it- Benefits of Headstand
- 4. Who should NOT practice Headstand? – Counter Indication
- 5. Correct Alignments – Important to know
- 6. Do or Don’t – Practicing against the wall
- 7. How to do it right – Steps to practice Headstand
- 8. How long should you hold it?
- 9. Common mistakes
- 10. Common myths
- Mastering how to do a headstand
- Have you ever wondered how to Do Headstand for Beginners?
- Read the full directions below and remember to GO SLOWLY engaging your core the whole time…
What’s the point of headstand?
Well, for starters, Peterson explains that headstands are known in yoga as “inversions”—poses that bring your heart over your head, or flip you upside down. According to Peterson, inversions are said to benefit the cardiovascular system along with the lymphatic system. Headstands are also a great physical challenge. “You have to work everything to hold this posture,” notes Peterson, including your arms, core, glutes, and legs.
Not to mention, there are some mental perks, too: “I think one of the benefits is pure, clean fun!” says Peterson. “Plus, refreshing your perspective and putting everything upside down is incredible, psychologically.”
Before you try to do headstand…
Realize that it’s totally okay if headstand isn’t right for you, or your body. There are a number of factors that may get in the way of your doing the pose that are totally out of your control, notes Peterson.
For example, if you have degenerative disk issues, structural imbalances in your back, or neck and shoulder issues—DO NOT DO A HEADSTAND. “It’s just not worth it.” But even if nothing is standing in your way, there are some things to keep in mind before attempting your first headstand.
Practice alignment. When it comes to headstand, keeping your spine and body in the proper position is crucial, says Peterson. To practice your alignment, do mountain pose, where you stand straight up with your arms raised overhead and toward your ears “to work your neck and build strong muscles.”
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And when you do prepare to do headstand, “have an instructor watch you and check the alignment of your neck,” she advises. “Are you at the right place on the top of your head? Is there a curve in your spine?” These are all important things to consider to prevent injury.
Don’t put all the weight in one place. “The goal is to have less than 10 percent of your body weight in your head,” notes Peterson. That means, it’s crucial to engage the rest of your body, like your arms, core, glutes, and legs. You can also practice with less weight, by placing yoga blocks under your forearms, to take any pressure out of your head.
Control your speed. You shouldn’t be popping up into this pose at lightning speed. “You’ve got to go up slow, and you’ve got to come down slow,” says Peterson. “That will decrease the weight and pressure in your spine and head.”
It’s not a marathon. To truly master headstand, you may be under the impression that you need to hold the pose for a really, really long time. But that’s just not true. “Don’t be up there long,” says Peterson. “Three breaths or less is fine.” And if that feels too long, that’s okay, too.
Work your way up to headstand.
“If you’re brand new at it, go step-by-step,” says Peterson. “Realize everyone has to work at it.” Build your way up to it with other poses, like downward dog or dolphin pose, wide-leg forward fold, or legs up the wall (where your torso is on the ground and your feet are up the wall).
You can also practice using a chair. To do so, get into dolphin pose (seen above) with your hands cradling your head and put your feet on a chair or bench. Then practice extending one leg into the air, then the other.
In fact, she notes that these are all great alternative inversions, if you find headstand really isn’t your thing.
How to do a headstand
Now, for the moment you’ve all been waiting for: Here’s how to actually get your body into that headstand. Again, if it’s your first time, make sure an instructor is nearby to check your alignment, says Peterson.
How to: Begin by interlacing your fingers and placing your hands on the ground, with palms facing toward each other. Place the back of your head into your hands, and position the top of your head on the floor. Your shoulder blades should be rotated out. Start with your legs in dolphin pose, and check your alignment before proceeding—your head, shoulders, spine, and hips should be in one line. Take five breaths here.
Then, lift one foot up into the air, and using your core strength, lift the other to meet it. It should feel like your elbows are punching into the ground. Your core, thighs, and glutes are engaged. Keep your legs straight and quads extended. Your body should feel like a solid, secure cylinder, with minimal weight in your head. Hold for three breaths, then slowly lower your legs back down.
Remember you’re not a failure if headstand isn’t your thing.
Peterson notes that whether you can pull off a headstand or not, that doesn’t make you any more or less of a yogi (phew!) “Yoga is all about skillful action, so as long as you’re making choices with deep why and personal power, that’s yoga,” she says. “The way that you approach each pose is just as important as the doing of the pose. It’s still yoga even if you choose not to headstand.”
Kristine Thomason Fitness & Wellness Editor Kristine Thomason is the fitness & wellness editor at Women’s Health, where she edits, writes, and helps oversee the food and fitness sections of the website and magazine.
If you’ve been practicing yoga for a while now and feel pretty confident about being able to bend, twist, balance, and flow through your practice using the strength of your muscles and the calmness of your mind, then perhaps it’s time to consider trying one of the slightly more advanced poses. Headstand (Shirshasana) is one such pose that looks easy when done by pro, but it takes some serious upper body strength and core strength to get yourself up there without toppling over.
In the supported version of this pose, the body balances on the forearms as the fingers interlace and support the back of the head while the shoulders and core do the real work. Headstands are said to offer a wide range of benefits, including stimulated brain function and mood enhancement as blood flow and oxygen move down through the inverted body to the head.
It’s important to practice this pose correctly to avoid injuring the neck or back — especially since the majority of the weight should be supported by the arms and balanced with the core. Anyone just starting out with giving this pose a try would greatly benefit from just practicing how to get the placement of the arms and head right before trying to lift the lower body up.
Here are some of the main tips that really helped me when I first started practicing this beautiful pose as a newbie.
Find the Crown of Your Head
The position of the head is very important when doing a headstand because you don’t want it to be too far forward or too far back in a way that strains your neck. You’ll need to use the crown of your head, which you can easily get a feel for by grabbing a yoga block or a book and balancing it on the top of your head.
Interlace Your Fingers
Interlacing the fingers is easy, but there’s one small shift you may want to make to the single pinky finger that’s on the outside. Simply bring the pinky slightly inward so that the sides of both hands where your pinkies are can be level. This will keep that little pinky that was once on the outside from being squashed when you’re on the floor.
Practice Dolphin Pose
Dolphin pose looks like downward dog, but with the forearms down on the floor (and in this case for practicing a headstand, the interlaced hands are supporting the back of the head too). The great thing about this pose is that you can get a real feel for where your arms should be (about shoulder width apart) in preparation for headstand and how your head should be positioned as you look straight out in front of you, keeping the neck long.
Play Around With the Legs
Once you’ve got a good feel for how the upper portion of your body on the ground should be placed while in dolphin pose, you can experiment with walking the legs up further toward your head or practice lifting each individual leg in preparation for eventually lifting up and balancing. Plan to do this along a wall to keep it safe.
Need a visual walkthrough? Here’s a great video that shows all the detailed steps that beginners can take to safely and effectively practice moving into a full supported headstand:
Take it slow. It could be week or months before you can successfully do a headstand without falling over. Everybody is different.
Remember that if you experience any pain at all, stop immediately and either adjust or give it a rest. You don’t want to injure yourself, and you can always come back the next day or whenever you’re ready to practice again.
Image (edited) via Omar Bariffi
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HEADSTAND YOGA BENEFITS
Aside from being a fun pose to hold, Sirsasana has other added benefits. This pose works on maintaining your balance. The yoga headstand can help strengthen your shoulders and arms. But staying balanced doesn’t rest solely in your upper body. Your core also plays an integral role in keeping you up in the air.
HEADSTAND YOGA TIPS
Make note of these tips before you get started on your headstand variation.
- Use a block or a book to find the flattest part of your head. Sit up straight and adjust the block until you’re able to balance it.
- If you’re new to the pose, set up your mat about a foot away from a wall for support. As you build strength and balance, gradually move away from the wall.
- Try folding your mat over onto itself to create a small cushion for your head.
- You can build upper body and core strength for headstands by practicing the plank pose, crow pose and chaturanga.
HOW TO DO A TRADITIONAL HEADSTAND – SIRSASANA
For a good headstand, you need a good foundation.
- Start on all fours with your shoulders positioned over your wrists and your hips over your knees.
- Interlace your fingers and place your forearms parallel on the mat, no more than shoulder-width apart. Your elbows should be parallel with each other in a straight line.
- Start by bringing your hairline to the mat.
- Roll forward onto the flattest part of your head.
- Firm your hands and your forearms into the floor. Your hands should be around your head.
- Straighten your legs as if you were coming into Downward Facing Dog.
- Tiptoe your feet forward.
- Pull one leg into your belly.
- Pull your other leg toward your belly and pause with bent knees and your toes still on ground.
- Calhoun recommends lifting your legs then placing your feet back on the ground a few times to firm up the core.
- If you’re ready to continue, press the balls of your feet to the sky and squeeze your inner thighs.
- Continue to firm your forearms into the floor. Draw your elbows in slightly and squeeze your shoulders away from your ears.
- Remember that you’re not balancing all of your weight at one point. Instead, you’re making the tiniest of shifts between the strength of your upper body and the crown of your head.
Getting out of your headstand can be easy. But doing it with control is what will set your headstand apart.
- Slowly pull your knees back into your chest.
- Set your feet on the mat.
- Slowly lower into Child’s Pose and rest.
HOW TO DO A TRIPOD HEADSTAND
If you need a modification, this version of a headstand can be used.
- Place your palms flat in front of you, shoulder-width apart. Bend your elbows to a 90-degree angle, so your triceps are parallel to the ground.
- Gently roll onto the flattest part of your head. Keep your elbows in line with your shoulders.
- Lift your right knee onto your right triceps and your left knee onto your left triceps. Bring your big toes together to touch, pointing toward the sky.
If you are a beginner, it may be enough to stay here and build strength.
- When ready to move on, lift your knees off of your arms. Using the combined strength of your arms, core and legs, press the balls of your feet to the sky.
- Squeeze your core and inner thighs to help maintain balance.
- Pull your knees back to your elbows and set your feet on the mat.
- Slowly lower into Child’s Pose and rest.
In addition to regularly practicing your headstand, throw in some extra core work. Then, using these steps as your guide, “you will be upside down sooner than you think,” Calhoun says.
For a more intermediate yoga pose, try the crow pose. This yoga pose also takes time and practice to master.
7 Yoga Poses To Prepare For Headstand
Feeling groggy? Struggling with congestion? Need help refocusing? Inversions are the solution to all of these issues!
Inversions, such as headstand, forearm stand, shoulder stand and more, can improve circulation and improve health by draining lymph and resetting your nervous system. Inversions can be intimidating, so how do you get started?
After warming up your body with a quick practice, these 7 introductory poses will help your body prepare to be upside down!
1. Downward Facing Dog
This essential pose gives full-body benefits in any practice, but in preparation for headstand, try to give special attention to your shoulders and your core. Extend through your shoulder joints, pressing the mat away as you lengthen your shoulder blades down your back.
You can try rolling forward onto the balls of your feet, shifting more of your body weight forward into your shoulders to see how strong your upper body is feeling. Pull your navel back toward your spine, engaging your core to give yourself more stability and strength in the pose. Challenge yourself to see how much power you can put into your Downward Facing Dog.
2. High Plank
From Downward Dog, roll forward all the way into your high plank, bring your shoulders an inch or two past your wrists. Press the mat away, lengthening through the shoulders and the neck as you engage the entirety of your hands (including fingertips!) to lessen the pressure on the wrists.
Rotate the upper arms inward, bringing the elbow creases to face one another. This is a great opportunity to roll back and forth from Downward Dog into plank and back again several times, warming up your shoulder girdle muscles and your core. These are the two main muscle groups to concentrate on in preparation for shoulder stand.
3. Dolphin Plank
This seemingly minor change on the previous pose is actually a big change in focus. Flowing through Chaturanga, bring your forearms down onto the mat, keeping a straight, strong line with your body.
You can keep your palms face-down on the mat in a direct line with your elbows, or you can lace your hands together in front of you. In either case, keep your elbows shoulder-distance apart. Draw your core in towards your spine to support your lower back, trying not to sag through the lower half of the body.
In this pose, you can again try rolling forward onto the balls of your toes, making minute shifts forward and backward to challenge your shoulders, all while still pushing the mat away by extending through your shoulder joints.
4. Dolphin Pose
From Dolphin plank, walk your feet in toward your elbows—bringing your toes about three feet away from your elbows—while still keeping your legs relatively straight. It’s good to come into this pose with lots of warmth in the hamstrings, so make sure your hamstrings and lower back are prepped for this pose.
Your weight will start to shift more into your shoulders at this point, and you should keep the same amount of engagement in the core as you did in the previous pose—it’s easy to forget!
Refocus on your core using your breath as you walk your toes in, pulling your hip bones up to the ceiling and continuing to pull your ears away from your shoulders to avoid any collapsing in this area.
5. Headstand Prep
This pose simply builds in intensity on the previous pose, as you bring your feet as close as possible to your elbows. At this point, most of your body weight is centered over your shoulders, and this is the moment to position your head on the floor.
Interlacing your fingers on the mat in front of you, bring the crown of your head to the floor with no pressure on the crown itself. Simply make very light contact with the floor and cradle the back of your skull with your interlaced fingers.
Keeping length and strength in the neck, engage the forearms and shoulders—these two muscle groups are carrying all of your body weight. If a friend happened upon you in this pose, they would be able to easily slip their credit card between your head and the floor.
6. One-Legged Headstand
In the previous pose, you felt your weight shift to being mostly supported by our upper body, so you should be able to easily lift one foot off the mat without shifting too much more weight into the shoulders.
Lift one foot up as far as you can, testing out what kind of core strength will be required to lift both feet up off the ground. Switch legs back and forth until you are comfortable lifting one leg off the mat while not compromising your head and neck safety.
7. Headstand Against the Wall
Credit: Kristin McGee
Finally, position yourself in the previous pose with your head close to a wall, so that when in one-legged headstand, your back is facing the wall. Bring one foot off the floor by drawing that knee into your chest. Do the same with the other foot, drawing that knee into your chest as well.
Both feet are now off the mat, with your forearms and shoulders bearing your body weight. Take this moment, with all of your weight consolidated into a small ball, to try and straighten out and lengthen your spine.
Then, use your core strength and breath to push one leg and then the other up into the air, letting the heels of your extended feet rest on the wall behind you for support.
Eventually, you’ll feel so secure and confident that you won’t need the wall—you will have achieved freestanding headstand!
Now, these poses aren’t meant to be done one right after the other in quick succession. Simply add them individually into your regular practices with increasing frequency and duration, and after a few weeks, your shoulders and core will be well-practiced for the strength and movement necessary for headstand.
Sirsasana Variations – Headstand Pose
Headstand is a very tricky asana that yogis, especially beginners, should approach with caution. Performing this classic yoga pose requires you to place your forearms on the floor and clasp the hands behind your head.
When you’re stable or comfortable enough in the Sirsasana (Headstand) pose, you can now begin learning its several leg variations. This next level of practice energizes and lengthens your spine, properly preparing your body for forward bends and backbends.
Yogis practice the whole of this class in the Headstand position. So, get ready to invert and move through a very detailed sequence that focuses on Eka Pada and Parivrtta Eka Pada Sirsasana. The emphasis here is on alignment and precision.
Salamba Sirsasana I – Supported Headstand
This is a variation of the traditional Headstand (Sirsasana). The inversion shows control, strength, and beauty. The name Salamba Sirsasana I comes from the Sanskrit words Salamba which means “with support,” Sirsa which means “head,” and asana which means “posture.” In English, this pose is also called Supported Headstand.
To enter the asana:
Begin in the Ardha Pincha Mayurasana (also called the Dolphin Pose), then bring your palms to touch and interlace your fingers.
Rest the crown of your head on the mat between your arms.
Slowly move your knees closer to your torso.
Shift your body’s weight from the feet to your arms as your torso is vertically aligned.
Hug one knee toward your chest and see if you can lift your toes on the extended leg, then repeat on the other side. Don’t jump, work on control instead.
Salamba Sirsasana I acts as a building block towards reaching the complete expression of the Sirsasana inversion. The Supported Headstand has the following benefits:
Returns blood to your heart and brain, thereby refreshing your cardiovascular and lymphatic systems.
It also has energizing effects on your entire body.
It helps relieve asthma and manage asthmatic symptoms.
Provides mental clarity and renewed energy
It can also help increase concentration and memory over time.
It can help redirect your sexual energy to a higher spiritual utilization if you’re doing it for religious purposes. This can promote a positive atmosphere around you and increase wellness. This energy is known as Ojas, and it can help heighten other spiritual yogic practices.
Just like other inversions, Salamba Sirsasana can help open your Ajna (third-eye chakra). The reverse body position allows energy to flow to this third-eye, increasing intuition, psychic ability, and spirituality.
Salamba Sirsasana II – Tripod Headstand
Also called the Sirsasana B or Mukta Hasta Sirsasana in the Sanskrit, the Tripod Headstand is a variation of Sirsasana (traditional Headstand). A “royalty” of yoga poses, just like other Headstands, Salamba Sirsasana II is an inversion that shows control, strength, and charm. It is a building block towards reaching the complete expression of Sirsasana.
Many treat the Tripod Headstand as a more advanced version of Sirsasana, but that’s not always the case. Some people who can’t make sense of Sirsasana I easily feel cozier with Sirsasana II. This is probably because it more closely parallels the Headstands they performed as children.
However, it is recommended that you master the Tripod before progressing to the full Headstand. If you set it up properly with good alignment, you’ll have no reason for not trying it before mastering the complete version. Whichever the case, ensure that you increase your strength and control when lifting into the full asana.
Follow these instructions for this pose:
Begin on all fours.
Place your head’s crown on the mat between a bit forward than your hands, think about a tripod, you want to create three points of contact; your head and two hands.
Shift your body’s weight from your feet to your arms and head, making sure to keep your elbows at an angle of 90 degrees. The palms should remain on the ground with your arms and head forming an equilateral triangle to act as an underpinning (“tripod”) base.
Transfer your weight forward toward the head and hands in order to lift one foot off the floor.
Hug one knee toward your chest and see if you can lift your toes on the extended leg, then repeat on the other side.
Once the legs are up, maintain this position for at least five breaths, ensuring you’re pressing strongly into your palms for the entire period of time.
To come out, slowly lower your feet back to the mat, ensuring that you engage the core to get a controlled descent.
The Tripod Headstand has the following benefits:
It returns blood to your heart and brain, thereby refreshing your lymphatic and cardiovascular systems
It energizes your body
Can help relieve headaches
Stimulates the pituitary glands
Can increase mental clarity, memory, and concentration due to increased blood flow to the brain
Salamba Sirsasana III – Supported Headstand
This is a variation of the master Sirsasana pose that requires stability with your head’s crown and shoulders’ strength. The base asana balances your body on the head’s crown while supporting your head with your cupped hands. Contrarily, this supported headstand pose uses your palms as support when you place them on the floor.
Salamba Sirsasana offers the following benefits:
Helps to open, activate, and balance the crown and third eye chakras
Strengthens and stretches the muscles of the arms, shoulders, core, and neck
Follow the following instructions carefully to perform this pose:
Begin on all fours.
Now place your head’s crown on the ground, slowly moving your hips and going onto the toes in the Tripod Dolphin Pose
Bring your palms on the ground while the fingers are pointing towards your face’s direction, outwards.
Exhale. Raise your right leg, slowly putting your right knee over your right upper arm, while curving your right leg in Tripod Headstand Prep One Knee On Elbow
Inhale. Bring your right knee to rest on your right upper arm in Tripod Headstand Prep Knees On Elbow. Adjust your hips and legs to a comfortable position.
Inhale and lift your right leg, completely stretching it in Tripod Headstand Prep One Leg Half Raised
Inhale and bring your other leg to completely stretch it in Tripod Headstand Sequence Flow
Slowly move your right palm and turn it while bringing the fingers to face the opposite direction. Do the same with the other palm
Adjust your body slowly, avoiding to move your head and you’ll come to Sirsasana III
To release, bend your right leg and put your toes on the ground. Then, bring your left leg and put your toes on the ground, while shifting your arms for comfort
It is not easy to master the Sirsasana III pose. You require strong shoulder, neck, and core muscles to do this. Although flexibility is important, strength and balance play a greater role here. Therefore, you need to do the following preparatory yoga poses before practicing this asana:
Forearm side Plank and Camatkarasana for arm and shoulder muscle strength
Sarvangasana and Chakrasana for shoulder and neck muscle strength
Dekasana and Urdhva Mukha Paschimottasana for core muscle strength and balance
Sirsasana (Headstand Pose)
Also called the Unsupported Headstand, Niralamba Sirsasana is a variation of the classical Headstand Pose. However, it is harder to perform it than its base asana since you’ll be attempting to balance your entire body weight only on your head in an inverted position. You only use your arms to offer a sense of balance but not to bear the load.
Niralamba Sirsasana comes from the Sanskrit’s four words. Nira means “without,” Lamba means “support,” Sirsa means “head,” and asana means “pose” or “posture.” The translation of Niralamba Sirsasana into English is Unsupported Headstand.
Niralamba Sirsasana has many variations depending on how you position your arms in relation to the body. Sometimes, you can keep them on the sides while at others, they’re in front of your body on the ground. Overall, it’s your head and neck muscles that primarily support your body weight. Again, your arms are just for achieving balance in the inverted posture.
It is advisable to master the Salamba Sirsasana before trying to perform Niralamba Sirsasana. The steps for doing the Unsupported Headstand are similar to the Supported Headstand from the beginning. However, in the end, you’ll move your hands to a position where it’s only the head that supports your body weight.
Practice this transition with great caution:
Slowly move your hands to the front of your body on the ground so it can help in balancing. Ensure they don’t support any weight.
If you’re an advanced practitioner, remove your hands from the ground and place them next to your legs or thighs. If you’re in your initial stages, you can use a wall to support yourself and get a partner to help prevent any fall.
If you’re a beginner, stay in the final position just for a few seconds. You can increase the time as your skills and ability gets better
To release, bring your hands back to the floor, next to your head just like in Salamba Sirsasana.
Slowly descend, coming back to the initial Marjariasana position.
You can do Tadasana (optional) to help in bringing back excess blood from your head to the body.
Lie down in the Shavasana position for a short time to rest
Niralamba Sirsasana offers the following benefits:
Connects you with higher spiritual energy
Stimulates health and vitality
Calms your mind and relieves stress
Boosts mental clarity
Purifies the blood
Relieves asthma symptoms
It can help relieve headaches
Tones the pituitary glands
How to Safely Practice Headstand
Headstand can be a terrific asana for your mind and body. Practicing it has lots of benefits. However, you must exercise it with a lot of caution to avoid cervical spine injury. The risk of harm heightens when you practice headstand with poor techniques and alignment or over-repetition.
You shouldn’t take the risks of practicing this asana lightly. Here are some suggestions to keep you safe when considering to perform the Headstand position:
Skip the asana if you have any injury, especially on your neck, shoulder, and upper back. The risks of Headstand position injuries far outweigh its benefits if you have an existing medical problem or condition. If you have an inflammation, misalignment, or weakness, consult your physician before trying to enter this pose.
Since Headstand is an advanced pose, you’ll require the services of a qualified and experienced instructor to learn it without risking your health. A seasoned teacher is able to tell whether you possess enough strength to support your body and can advise on various technicalities such as alignment. Online yoga videos are good, but may not be safe for such an advanced pose.
It is important to start practicing the Supported Headstand position first before trying the full pose and its other variations.
Enter the pose by lifting your straightened legs simultaneously. Do it slowly to limit the amount of cervical flexion and achieve moderate weight loading. If you have a lower back issue, then this variation may be a bit problematic. An alternative is to raise both knees into your chest to come into a tuck position. Then, straighten the legs.
You can learn the Headstand position against a wall for increased safety as it avoids toppling out of the pose. However, you should resist the temptation of kicking up to it. Instead, bring your legs or knees into your chest first. If you kick up to the wall, you’ll get into a backbend. This way, you may collapse into the lower back, making it more difficult for the core to get back to the upright position. Additionally, you risk over-flexing or hyper-extending your neck, thereby bringing it out of neutral alignment.
Exit the Headstand slowly, symmetrically, and with good control.
Yoga Headstand for Beginners
Watch tutorials for Shoulderstand and Handstand
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Think you can’t do a headstand?
For many westerners, the simple thought of standing on one’s head is often enough to trigger subconscious fears. Students may look down at the floor, bite their lips, round their shoulders, etc. In extreme cases, they may even begin to shake uncontrollably, raising their palms in complete refusal.
While there are many possible reasons for these reactions, possibly the most common explanation has to do with control. As adults, we like to feel as if we are in control, not only of ourselves, but also our surroundings. And when we practice headstand, we literally turn our world upside down! We no longer have the familiar comfort of being grounded on our own two feet, where we can most easily interact with our environment. On top of this, there is usually some degree of uncertainty around the idea of balancing most of our body weight on a small circle on the crown of our head. And since many adults already experience tension in their neck and shoulders, they tend to avoid headstand in their yoga practice.
The good news is that these fears are normal. After all, we didn’t grow up learning to walk on our heads! At the same time, headstand is one of those essential poses, or asanas, that every serious student should know. So important is headstand (sirsasana in sanskrit), in fact, that it is referred to as the king of asanas. Ancient rishis, or sages, claimed that every minute spent in a headstand added a day to your life!
The truth is, there is no good reason why nearly every yogi and yogini can’t practice a headstand every day. As long as you keep a few important considerations in mind, not only will you not suffer from head or neck injuries; you will experience a myriad of benefits. These include:
- improved circulation throughout the body
- increased energy levels that tend to last throughout the day
- more strength in the neck, shoulders, and spine
- a brighter complexion
- heightened confidence, as well as a better ability to handle life’s challenges with grace
Students commonly report feelings of tranquility and an overall sense of well-being that flood the body both during, and immediately after practicing headstand. But don’t take our word for it, follow the steps below and learn for yourself!
1. To begin, bring your mat to the nearest wall. Place the shorter edge against the wall.
2. Depending on how thick your mat is, if you are practicing on top of a hardwood or laminate floor. you may wish to fold your mat to double it up for about the first three feet nearest the wall. You can also place a neatly folded blanket near the wall. Either way, try to allow enough room for the length of your forearms plus about six inches.
3. Standing on your knees facing the wall, clasp your elbows.
4. Release your forearms to your mat (or blanket) in front of you, sliding your palms out to form a triangular shape with your arms. Check to make sure that your palms are about 5-6 inches from the wall, adjusting if necessary. Now interlace your fingers, keeping your palms loose to help ground your wrists, and your thumbs pointing toward the ceiling.
5. Rest the back of your head against the broad base of your thumbs, pressing your crown down into your mat. This will be a small circle on your head about the size of a quarter. You may have to adjust your head positioning a few times to find where your head and neck feel most stable.
7. Now straighten your legs. Keeping your shoulders above your elbows, begin to walk your feet in one foot at a time until you sense that your hips are directly above your torso.
8. From here, there are several ways to lift off your mat. One way would be to bend both knees, drawing them in to your chest as close as possible, and with an exhale begin to slowly raise them overhead, resting both feet against the wall. An alternative that some students find easier would be to keep both legs straight, slowly extending either leg overhead as high as possible, and with an exhale lightly springing off the opposite foot, straightening the leg and releasing both feet to the wall.
9. Once both feet are on the wall, if you feel comfortable, you can explore removing one foot from the wall at a time. This gradual approach will allow your neck and shoulders to adjust to the feeling of sending progressively more weight straight down through your crown.
10. With practice, if you feel stable in your body lifting one foot off at a time, and your breath remains calm and steady, explore releasing both feet simultaneously and balancing. Appreciate that the worst thing that can happen here would be to fall on your feet! If that happens, of course you can always try again. But first, be sure to rest in child’s pose (balasana) for at least 3-5 deep breaths before setting up to lift off again. Resting in child’s pose gives your spine a chance to rest, returning to its natural curvature. Your arms can either be extended to help elongate your spine, or simply draped by your sides.
When you first begin to practice headstand, you may come out feeling tension in your neck, shoulders, and/or spine. This is due to the fact that your body is not used to standing upside down, so the muscles in your neck and shoulders need to be gradually trained to work in this way. For this reason, it is very important to A. always rest in child’s pose immediately after practicing headstand. If you come up to fast, you risk becoming dizzy, and possibly even fainting! B. when you do come up, do 2-3 neck rolls in both directions, moving slowly and in tune with your breath. This will help to work out any kinks in your neck, alleviating tension.
If you practice headstand regularly, eventually it will become as natural as standing on your feet! Your neck, shoulders, and spine will be strengthened, and you will feel most of your weight passing through your crown. You will feel comfortable spending progressively more time with your legs overhead, and the benefits mentioned above will become increasingly apparent, manifesting in your life in numerous ways. As always, proceed with sensitivity to your body, recognizing your strengths and weaknesses. Good luck, and have fun practicing!
(Video filmed at Everyday People Yoga in Eugene, Oregon)
A beginner’s guide to headstands
Tamara Jones, aka @tammyrara
Whether you’ve just done your first yoga class or are casually stalking superstar yogis on instagram, it’s likely that the headstand is on your list of long term yoga goals.
It’s not easy at first, but a supported headstand is probably the most accessible of all the yoga inversions. It’s a great stepping stone on the road towards forearm balances and handstands. The good news is that with plenty practice and patience, it is certainly very achievable.
The key is to not rush into such poses straight away. Yoga is a lifelong practice so just enjoy the journey, no matter how slow your progress can sometimes seem. Appreciate what you are able to do right now. Build a strong foundation, then if you practice consistently your strength will increase and you will begin to notice improvements.
You may sometimes end up in some bizarre interesting shapes, and that’s why inversions are so much fun. You can tap into a really playful place, release your inner child and literally turn that frown upside down!
BEFORE YOU BEGIN
Consider your hairstyle, to avoid your topknot being in an awkward position that may affect your balance or pull on your scalp.
Check your point of contact. The very top, flattest part of your head wants to be in contact with your mat. You can check this by balancing a block or a book on top of your head. Wherever your head is touching the block is the part that should touch the floor when you’re upside down.
LAYING THE FOUNDATIONS
To help you feel confident and stay upright, you may wish to make use of our very stable buddy, Paul the Wall! Alternatively practice the ‘falling with style’ technique away from the wall, by simply curling into a little ball and roly polying out of there!
READY TO GO?
Start on all fours and lower the elbows directly below the shoulders. Double check the alignment of your arms by clasping your elbows with your fingers.
Interlace your fingers and place your hands on your mat with your knuckles almost touching the wall. Next place the top of your head onto the mat, cradling the crown of your head with your hands.
Just take a moment here to get comfortable. Get used to putting a little weight on the top of the head.
Walk the toes in towards the face, trying to get the hips as high up as you can over the shoulders.
Before you go anywhere else, take a strong push down into your forearms and broaden your upper back. Get used to using your arms to support most of the body weight, as it will stop the top of your head getting squished and creates a lightness once you’re upside down.
Ideally take all or 90% of the body weight onto the arms. The head should only very lightly touch the floor.
If this position is enough, then try to stay here for a bit to build strength.
If you want more, bring one knee into the chest and hang out here, breathing deeply. Then switch legs, keeping your abs strong and engaged.
If you’re feeling ready, maybe bring both knees into the chest, and your heels towards your butt.
Don’t just wildly jump into this, as the chances of you catching that balance point are pretty slim. A tiny hop may be ok to gain momentum, but don’t get carried away and end up jumping through the wall! If you haven’t got the strength or shoulder flexibility to take your legs of the ground in a slow and controlled way, your body may not be ready for the full pose yet. It doesn’t have to happen overnight, just keep practicing.
Begin to reach up through the balls of the feet, keeping your knees and ankles superglued together. Keep engaging that core to ensure controlled alignment!
ONCE YOU ARE IN A HEADSTAND:
- Think about bringing length and strength to the posture. Trying to find that sweet spot; that center of gravity where the structure of the posture supports itself and the effort is minimal.
- You want a straight line throughout the body – from the ankles, through the thighs, hips, ribs, shoulders and ears.
- Reach up through the feet, spread the toes, squeezing your inner thighs.
- Lengthen your tailbone up towards the sky. Draw your belly button strongly in towards your spine, especially if your legs are feeling wobbly. If your ribs try to poof out, tuck them in.
- Breathe slowly and calmly.
- Don’t let the elbows go too wide, you will lose stability. Widen your shoulder blades and lift them towards the waist. You want to keep lots of distance between your ears and shoulders to release the neck muscles.
- If you feel any discomfort in the neck, come down.
To come out, reverse the way in. Bend the knees towards the chest. Slowly lower one foot at a time.
Always take a child’s pose immediately after a headstand (and in between multiple attempts). All the blood will be in your head. If you bounce straight from upside down to downside up, chances are you will feel a little woozy!
The wall is a great tool to help you get a feel for the posture but don’t become too dependent on it. As soon as you gain a little confidence, bring your headstand away from the wall. That’s when you learn control.
If at first you don’t succeed, keep trying. Again and again and again. You may fall down a hundred times and that’s ok, it’s how we learn! Every time you fall your body gains a muscle memory of what not to do next time.
You will soon discover that going upside down is not just about arm strength. It requires core strength, leg strength, shoulder strength… it’s using your entire body!
A regular headstand practice will improve arm, upper body and core strength, toning and tightening those muscles.
Gradually build up the time you spend in a headstand. The longer you hold it, the more therapeutic it becomes. Being upside down purifies the blood, heart and lungs, to make everything work more efficiently. It’s also great for your skin, as all the blood rushes to your head to stimulate the brain and give you that lovely ‘yoga glow’!
So next time you’re feeling sluggish and you need an energy boost, just flip it! Find a nice quiet corner in the office and have some upside-down time. I’m sure no one will notice!
- Remember if you have glaucoma or very high blood pressure, it’s best to avoid headstands.
- For those with neck, shoulder or wrist injuries, proceed with caution.
Tamara wears Alo Yoga from The Sports Edit. Follow her yogi journey on instagram @tammyrara.
Headstand 10 Things You Need To Know
Headstands: 10 Things You Need To Know
Headstand, Shirshasna means the posture where one stands on the top of the head. Headstand not only turns around your vision of the world but also turns around the blood pressure in the body. Headstand is one of the main postures in Hatha Yoga, also referred to as the king of asanas. This is because of its numerous benefits and effects on the body as well as on the mind.
In the past six years I have trained over 4000 yoga teachers from all over the world. My students are comprised of existing yoga teachers, health professionals, advanced as well as beginning practitioners and yoga enthusiasts. To my surprise I have found that most of my students, no matter to which category they belong, do not have clear understanding of headstand. Many of them have never practiced headstand as their teachers did not teach headstand in their classes. In fact many teachers seem to even discourage the practice of headstand or suggest practicing it only with the wall.
So even though there are numerous articles written on headstand, they somehow lack the insights into it. Therefore I decided to provide some clear and important information on it. Whether you already practice the headstand or whether you are planning to learn the headstand, you should know the following important facts about the headstand in order to get most out of it and in order to practice it safely.
1. What is Headstand (Shirshasana)?
Headstand is a Hatha yoga asana (posture) where the practitioner stands / balances on the head with the support of the arms. It is an inverted position where the head is on the ground and the feet are up. Even though Headstand is a challenging pose it is very popular due to its numerous benefits.
2. What happens – Physiology of Headstand?
When you come into headstand, not only the body inverts, but the blood pressure as well. The pressure changes in the head, neck, shoulders, veins, arteries, lungs as well as legs. This change in blood pressure forces the body to react in order to maintain balance in the different body systems. The muscles and tissues of upper extremities are also stressed and activated.
Now maybe some alarm bells are going off as you hear that the blood pressure to the head increases. Luckily our body has very intricate and strong systems to make sure that the body and the brain stay safe. If you are physically well and your practice with the help and guidance of an experienced teacher headstand is very safe and beneficial. Due the reversal of the blood pressure – when in Headstand the blood pressure towards the head increases and in the feet and legs reduces to almost zero – we can see incredible physiological benefits. In fact according to recent clinical research, inversions improve the brains performance by 14%, and regular inversions do really improve concentration, memory, observation and clarity of thought and can counter-act depression and anxiety. Furthermore inversion therapy may even play a serious role in arresting the brain’s “aging process.”
Much of mental deterioration can be traced to poor blood pressure and hardening of the arteries, both of which reduce oxygen flow. Thus, with regular inversion therapy, we can overcome these risk factors and keep the mind from sliding into dementia.
These medical proofs are exiting and again confirm what has been perceived thousands of years ago by the sages of ancient India.
3. Why should you do it- Benefits of Headstand
Headstand is referred as king of asanas due to its wonderful benefits to the body and the mind. Some of benefits on body are:
- stimulating the functioning of pineal, hypothalamus and pituitary glands. This helps in better functioning and coordination of all the endocrine glands;
- improving the body’s ability to maintain homeostasis by stimulation of the nervous system;
- providing conditioning to the brain, eyes and ears due to increased blood pressure;
- improving memory and concentration;
- removing mental fatigue, depression and anxiety;
- improving the functioning of the central nervous system;
- improving the body’s capability to regulate blood pressure by stimulation of baroreceptor;
- improving fitness and conditioning of the heart by reversing the blood pressure;
- improving body posture and activating the core;
- strengthening of muscles of back, shoulders and arms;
- improving blood and lymph circulation in the entire body; and
- improves digestion and elimination.
4. Who should NOT practice Headstand? – Counter Indication
Due to the complex nature of the headstand not everyone is advised to practice it. One should avoid practicing headstand if any of the following conditions apply:
- Children under age of seven years as their skull is freshly fused and can be still soft and prone to injury;
- pregnant women should avoid it as it can be risky if they fall out of the pose due to any reason;
- people with glaucoma should avoid it as it can increases the pressure in the eyes;
- people suffering acute or severe migraine should also avoid headstand;
- people with shoulder and neck injuries should also avoid practicing headstand till the injury is healed;
- people with hypertension should avoid headstand as it can lead to worsen the condition in some cases;
- people with severe heart problems should avoid it; and
- people suffering of osteoporosis should also avoid headstand.
5. Correct Alignments – Important to know
A correct alignment is very important while practicing headstand, otherwise it can lead to injuries rather than benefit to the practitioner. Please note that the original name of the position explained below is Salamba Shirshasana (supported headstand) but it is commonly called as Shirshasana only.
Starting position: It is recommended to stay in Shashankasana (Child pose) for 10-15 seconds to neutralize the bold pressure in the legs and the head before going into the headstand.
From Shashankasana hands should be placed above the head while elbows should be in line with shoulders. This position of the shoulders provides optimum stability to the shoulders later on, failing to do so may lead to extra play in the shoulders.
Head position: When you place your head on the ground make sure to place the part starting from the hairline going towards the crown also known as “Bregma”. Don’t place the crown on the ground as it is a very soft part which is prone to injury under pressure.
In figure A. the weight of the body is shared in 80/20 ratio by the head and the arms. The back muscles and the core are equally engaged. This is ideal alignment for those who wish to stay long in the pose.
In figure B. the weight of the body is more on the arms, less on the neck (20/80). The core is more engaged than the back muscles. This alignments is suitable for those who wish to develop core awareness and wish less pressure on the neck. This alignment should also be practiced if you are a beginner with this pose. Once you can hold the headstand for 1 minute comfortably, you can shift to alignment A.
In figure C. the weight of the body is on the neck and hands. The pelvis is hanging so the back muscles have to work very hard to keep the posture and the core is not sufficiently engaged. This alignment is not good as it brings compression in the neck and the back and can lead to injury.
In figure D. the weight of the body is falling behind the head so it is not possible to stay in the pose for almost anyone.
6. Do or Don’t – Practicing against the wall
It is best to avoid the wall because when you practice headstand with the wall the body will not use the right muscles to support your weight. Rather you will throw the weight on the wall and stay longer in the position than your body can actually handle. This can even lead to injuries to the brain, eyes and neck.
If you don’t have a competent teacher available to learn headstand it is recommended to find a spongy grass surface or a sandy beach. Now practice few child’s somersaults to learn how to roll out if you are falling from headstand in the beginning.
7. How to do it right – Steps to practice Headstand
Ideally your stomach should be empty so you should avoid eating 2-3 hours before the practice. Headstand should be practiced after a proper warm up. If you are not practicing on the grass or spongy surface use a 3-5 cm thick blanket under your head to provide cushioning for the skull.
To practice headstand follow the following steps:
- Sit on the knees and hold the elbows to measure the ideal distance. Then bring the arms to the ground right under the shoulders.
- Keeping the elbows there, bring the hands closer and interlock the fingers so that your arms form a triangle. Do not let your elbows open out.
- Place the head on the ground with the back of the head in the cupped hands.
- Curl your toes, straighten your knees , hips to the sky.
- Start walking towards your shoulders.
- Bring right knee in your chest and then bring other knee towards the chest. This will make your spine straight.
- As you inhale raise your legs to the sky. Bring your focus on a steady point preferably at eye level. Take easy relaxed breaths and hold the posture as long as comfortable.
- Keep your shoulders away from your ears to protect the neck from compressing too much.
- If possible keep your feet active and reaching towards the sky.
- Do not let your hip move behind your shoulders otherwise you will fall.
- If you practice near the wall do not lean on the wall, use it only for protection from falling.
8. How long should you hold it?
There are different views on the maximum duration for holding the headstand. Some teachers suggest maximum 2 minutes, some suggest 3-5 minutes, Hatha Yoga Pradipika even mentions 3 hours. But most of the ancient Hatha yoga texts suggest one common thing that the headstand can be held for any amount of time as long as it is steady and comfortable and no excess effort is used to stay in the posture. So if your arms, back or neck starts to get tired you should come out of the pose. Gradually with practice you will be able to hold the pose longer.
9. Common mistakes
Many people are not able to practice headstand properly. They either get injury or pain from it due to some common mistakes. But if you can be aware of these common mistakes you can avoid unnecessary strain and pain. The most common mistakes in the headstand which lead to instability, discomfort and even injury are following:
- Wrong alignments
- Bringing hips behind the shoulders
- Elbows too wide
- Wrong placement of head
- Not enough opposition in arms and feet
- Practicing on very hard floor
- Breathing too shallow or too fast
- Losing the natural curve of the spine
10. Common myths
Over the period many myths have been formed about headstand, all of which are misleading. Some of them are:
- You should not practice head stand during menstruation, this is a common myth among female practitioners. The blood cannot flow anywhere else due to the valves in the veins. The only reason why some senior teachers avoid headstand for menstruating women is because they might have cramps or nausea during the first days.
- If you are pregnant you can injure the baby by doing head stand.
- Head stand can injure your brain.
- Head stand is not safe for your neck.
- Head stand is not safe for your eyes.
Headstand is a very beneficial posture provided it is practiced properly and held for the right duration without excess mental or physical stress. I highly advise you to learn headstand from a competent teacher who has personal experience and proper understanding of it. For any questions please feel free to ask me, enjoy your Shirshsana.
Headstand or Sirsasana is an inverted balancing yoga posture that can be both refreshing and energising. A headstand is simply the art of balancing on your head with your legs in the air. However, if practiced badly it can cause injuries particularly in the neck region so it is important that you learn how to do a headstand properly. Below we have written a quick guide to help you safely learn and practice headstand.
Practicing headstands within your practice has many benefits, they can:
- Relieve stress and help flush the adrenal glands
- Increase mental focus by improving blood flow to the brain
- Strengthen the shoulders, arms and core
- Improve digestion
- Release toxins by stimulating your lymphatic system
You will be surprised to know there are many different ways to headstand, from different hand placements to varying entry routes – all have their own benefits when it comes to building upon strength and balance.
As headstand is quite an intense pose you should prepare and warm the body up before going straight into the pose. Good movements and postures to do this include high plank, down facing dog, dolphin pose and boat pose.
Once your shoulders, arms and core are nice and warm you can start to master the headstand…
Mastering how to do a headstand
STEP 1. Get grounded – Finding the right hand placement
To get into headstand it is best to start on your knees. You then need to decide which hand placement option you are going to use. There are two main options…
1. The supported headstand
This is where your hands are clasped together and placed onto of the crown of the head to create and inverted V from hands to elbows. Find the floor with the crown of your head, and cradle the back of your head with your clasped hands. 80% of your weight should be through the hands and arms, not through the crown of your head.
2. The tripod headstand
This is where the entire crown and top of the head is to the floor. The hands are placed on the floor, shoulder width apart and slightly back, so that again a triangular base is formed.
STEP 2. Going up – Use a wall for support to start
To begin with inversions can be a little scary, so it is always advisable to use a wall for support if this is your first try. Once you have your hand placement (the base) nailed you are ready to start taking the legs into the air.
To lift, make start to engage your upper body, pressing the elbows or hands into the ground, lifting through the shoulders to protect the neck. Once you have found a stable base you can lift your legs off the floor until they are vertical and directly above you.
If you are using a wall you can start by leaning back against it until you feel comfortable. Then begin to practice moving slightly further away from the wall, perhaps only using one foot against it to stabilise. Finally when you feel 100% confident, move completely away from the wall and practice it freestanding!
Tuck is also a favourite entry for beginners to try to once they have moved away from the wall…
STEP 3. Begin to play with balance and hand positions
Now that you are way from the wall and have have the basics nailed you can begin to play with hand positioning, using the legs to create beautiful shapes, or perhaps adding movement to build strength.
Think about entry into the pose, can you make it more challenging by perhaps trying to go into it with pike…
or straddle legs…
Then, once inverted, test out different leg positions a favourite for mine is scissor legs, but other popular variations include soles of the feet together and twisting, or if you have normal eagle pose in your practice why not give it a go inverted!
Headstand Variations – Hand Placement
Headstand with iron cross hand positioning
Headstand Variations – Leg Positioning
Supported headstand with diamond legs
Supported headstand with scorpion legs
Supported headstand with L shaped legs
Supported headstand – Bow & Arrow
Supported headstand – Scissor or Stag Legs
Supported headstand with eagle legs
After you have finished playing, you may want to take a moment to recover in child’s pose.
Have you ever wondered how to Do Headstand for Beginners?
Well I’m here today to teach you!
Note: If you are a complete beginner and totally new to yoga, be sure to only participate in the headstand prep drill to build the strength and flexibility before you move on to the full pose.
I remember the first yoga class I ever went to the yoga teacher had us move our mats against the wall and kick up to get into a headstand…
And let me tell you, it felt wrong. I felt like I was going to hurt myself and there was no instruction other than “just kick up!”
Now here’s the thing…
The problem with kicking up onto a wall is that you aren’t learning how to use your STRENGTH, and instead you’re using momentum with no connection to your core whatsoever.
Ultimately, kicking up doesn’t teach you how to progress into the pose in a safe way and it can be seriously dangerous, often leading to injury.
Learn how to SAFELY and PROPERLY practice headstand for beginners without using a wall in this headstand tutorial video.
I will teach you everything you need to know in order to progress your headstand until you can fully extend both legs into the air.
Only progress to the point where you feel comfortable, listen to your body and have patience before you move into full headstand.
Read the full directions below and remember to GO SLOWLY engaging your core the whole time…
1) Place your elbows to the ground and measure your hands to the opposite shoulder. Then, place your forearms on the ground, interlacing your fingers, stacking your pinky fingers one in front of the other. Externally rotate your armpits towards one another, and maintain space in your elbows and arm pits. Place the crown of your head to the ground between your arms so the back of your head is up against your hands.
2) Maintain the external rotation in your arms and press your hands, wrists and forearms into the ground. Slowly walk your feet towards your face to stack your hips directly over your shoulders.
3) Lift one leg up of the ground, bringing in it to your chest. Then WITHOUT kicking lift the other leg up using your core, bringing the other leg into your chest. Stay here for a few breaths.
4) Once you are comfortable with 3, move your hips back past your shoulders as you raise your shins to the sky. Keep your heels tight into your glutes and continue to press through your arms and hands. Stay here for a few breaths.
5) If you are comfortable with 4 continue to press through the arms and hands as you lift your knees up keeping your heels close into your glutes.
6) Only if you’re comfortable with 5 then continue to press well through the arms and hands as you finally lift your feet all the way up. Press well through the arms, wrists and hands to create the lift all through the body all the way to the feet.
7) Come out the same way you came in. Slowly lower your feet back, your hips move back as you lower your knees and then slowly the feet land.
8) Lastly, rest in child’s pose to relax your neck. Slowly come up with your head last.
Practice and stay patient. Before you know it you’ll be hangin’ out in headstand! 😉
P.S. Wondering what the benefits are to a regular headstand practice?
Check out these 10 amazing health benefits of headstands.
Almost all of the articles you see about yoga these days—and there are a passel of ’em—describe how wonderful it is. They list the benefits, ranging from increased flexibility to ultimate immersion in the Great Cosmic Ooze. They describe yoga as a stress-free, painless way to well-being. But by touting only the obvious goodies, these articles not only paint an incomplete picture of yoga, they also rob it of its juice. The pleasures and benefits of yoga are indeed numerous and profound, but the difficulties you encounter in your practice are at least as important.
Ancient yoga texts stress the importance of tapas—the fiery quality of discipline and determination. One way to produce fire is friction, and the resistances that arise as you practice often provide the spark that ignites the fires of transformation. That fire is fed and fanned by your practice as you roll out your mat day after day. Every part of your life, from the most mundane to the most lofty, also rolls out for your consideration. Every time you practice, you run the risk of having your world turned upside down.
But that’s true whether you do yoga or not. At any moment, your life can change forever. Whether you choose to keep this frightening truth in the forefront of your awareness or not, impermanence is a fact of life.
Long ago, yogis recognized this by making nonattachment one of the cornerstones of yogic practice. If you follow the path of yoga, you must be willing to change anything and everything in your life: what you eat, wear, and read; how you perceive, think, and act. To be truly free, somewhere along the line you have to be willing to give up the illusory security of the known and fling yourself into the abyss of the unknown.
Salamba Sirsasana (Headstand) provides an opportunity for experimenting safely with the unfamiliar and the fear it engenders. Headstand can be scary. It literally turns your world upside down. Beginners may become disoriented, unable to tell left from right and top from bottom.
But, as B.K.S. Iyengar says in his section on Sirsasana in Light on Yoga, “The best way to overcome fear is to face with equanimity the situation of which one is afraid.” Fortunately, disorientation in Headstand subsides fairly quickly. With regular practice, you can begin to experience the benefits which led the yogis to call Sirsasana the “King of Asanas.”
Getting Ready for Headstand
Salamba sirsasana is not a pose for raw beginners. Proficiency in some preliminary asanas will speed your learning and go a long way toward preventing problems in Headstand.
The most fundamental asana for learning Sirsasana is Tadasana (Mountain Pose). The actions of the legs, torso, and neck are essentially the same in both poses, although these actions feel different when you turn topsy-turvy and reverse your body’s relationship to gravity.
The standing poses develop the strength, flexibility, and endurance you need in Sirsasana. Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose) can help provide the necessary increase in shoulder mobility; Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog) also opens and strengthens the shoulders and introduces you to a mild inversion.
Salamba Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand) is second only to Tadasana as a preparation for Sirsasana. Shoulderstand tones your spinal muscles, teaches your legs to lift your body (keeping the spine free from compression), and allows you to confront and reduce the fear and disorientation that can arise in inversions. After at least four months practicing these (and other) poses, you may be ready to try Sirsasana.
Even if you already feel accomplished in Headstand, you can learn a lot from going back to the foundations of the pose. Begin by placing a folded sticky mat on the floor to cushion your forearms, wrists, and hands. Use the firmest, thinnest padding you can and still be comfortable.
A firm base will provide you the resistance required to get a good lift in the pose. (If you want to use a blanket for more padding, make sure you put it on a sticky mat to prevent it from sliding around.) Arranging your padding parallel to a wall rather than diagonally or haphazardly will help you orient yourself once you’re upside down.
Kneel in front of your padding and place your elbows shoulder-width apart near the front edge of your support. (The edge gives you a point of reference for placing your elbows evenly.) Interlock your fingers right up to the webs and keep them relaxed. A loose interlock invites instability; rigid fingers will create unnecessary tension. Align the wrists perpendicular to the floor and center your weight on the edge of the forearm bone, rolling neither in nor out.
Still kneeling, place the crown of your head on your padding and move the back of your head directly into your hands. To prevent the cervical vertebrae from collapsing into one another, firmly press the forearms and wrists into the floor. This grounding lifts the shoulders away from the head, creating space in the neck. Practice first lifting and then dropping the shoulders a few times so the distinction is clear. Then keep them lifted and raise your knees, keeping your feet on the floor.
If possible, hold this position for 30 to 60 seconds, but come down immediately if your shoulders droop or you experience any discomfort in your neck. Practice for a few days or weeks until you can maintain the lift of the shoulders for at least a minute.
Practice Headstand at the Wall
Now you’re ready to move your padding to a wall or to the corner of the room. (Learning in a corner has the advantage of preventing you from leaning to the left or right.)
Kneel again and place your knuckles about an inch or two from the wall. Since you are no longer able to use the edge of your padding to position your elbows, take extra care to align your elbows with your shoulders: not wider, not narrower.
Lift your hips so your knees come off the ground and walk your feet closer to your head, bringing the torso as nearly perpendicular to the floor as possible. As you walk in, you’ll need to work harder to maintain the lift of your shoulders.
In addition, your elbows will want to widen and your wrists and forearms will tend to roll out, but your previous practice should help you maintain proper alignment of your elbows, forearms, and wrists. Your upper back will also tend to collapse toward the wall. To counter this, pull the mid-thoracic spine (the section between your shoulder blades) into your body (away from the wall) and up toward your hips. Grounding through your forearms and wrists will facilitate this action.
Avoid Jumping Into Headstand
At this point, you may feel an urge to move on quickly to the final pose. A little hop and you’re there, right? Many students become impatient and frustrated with continuing to practice preparations when the goal seems so near. Why not just go for it?
If you haven’t fully understood and accomplished the earlier work for the wrists, forearms, shoulders, and upper back, you won’t come into proper alignment in the full pose. Instead of creating problems you’ll have to correct later, you’ll do better to spend the weeks or months you need to master the correct actions in your upper body.
This preparatory work is an opportunity to bring true yoga into your practice. Standing on your head is not yoga. Kids do it all the time; so do circus performers.
What makes Sirsasana yoga is an exquisite attention to balance and alignment, an inward movement of awareness that heightens your sensitivity and stability, and an increased willingness to be in the moment. Where you are is where you are. If your shoulders and upper back are collapsing into your neck, you need further practice to build your foundation.
Throwing yourself up into Headstand before you’re ready may make you feel like you’ve gotten somewhere, but that somewhere won’t be where you thought you were going—and, in the long run, you’ll discover that you’ve taken a detour, not a shortcut.
Take Your Time with the Prep Poses
Once you are able to lift your hips and bring them near the wall without collapsing the upper body, you’re ready to take your feet from the floor and stand on your head. At this point, you may be tempted to allow your fear of being upside down to outweigh your desire to learn Sirsasana. Instead of committing yourself completely, you may hold back and sabotage your efforts.
In similar circumstances, my teacher once advised me: “Be cautious. Be bold.” If you’ve done your preparatory work, you’ve already exercised caution. Now is the time to be bold.
This time, once you’ve walked in as far as you can without collapsing in your back and shoulders, tilt your hips back toward the wall so your feet become light. Ideally, the shift of the hips and the strength of the abdominal and back muscles will enable you to lift the feet smoothly and easily away from the floor.
Things aren’t always ideal, though, and many folks need to give a little hop in order to lift the feet off the floor and toward the wall. I prefer that students come into the pose with both feet at once rather than lifting one leg at a time. The latter method can throw the weight onto one side of the neck. Furthermore, learning to take the legs up together develops strength and control that will serve you well when you finally move into the full pose. But it’s your practice and your pose; you’ll have to decide which method is best for you.
With an exhalation, bring your feet up, keeping your knees bent near your chest. Don’t hold this position for long, because with the body drawn into a compact shape you will tend to collapse in your neck, shoulders, and midback.
Still keeping the knees bent, take your feet to the wall. With your heels in contact with the wall, stretch the legs up one at a time.
Make your movements smooth and controlled, not sudden and jerky. The backs of your legs and your buttocks will touch the wall.
Continue to press your forearms and wrists into the floor, lift your shoulders, and draw your mid-thoracic spine in and up. Stretch your legs fully up toward the ceiling by squeezing the outer thighs, calves, and ankles in toward one another and drawing the entire inner and back legs upward.
The stretch of the legs is crucial: It not only helps lift the pelvis and prevent the sacrum from sinking into the lower back, but also helps lengthen the neck.
Extend through the inner heels and inner balls of the feet so that the inner shins and calves stretch as much as the outer, and broaden the balls of your feet from the big to the little toe side.
Relax the Breath and the Upper Body
Many of the benefits of Sirsasana come only after you stay in the pose for a while, so you should work on building your endurance. At first, your Headstand may be effortful. You will be apt to sweat and tremble until you learn the basic actions and adjustments.
But to extend your time in Headstand, you must eventually develop comfort and ease in the posture. As you practice, make sure to relax your breath, soften your facial muscles, and allow your eyes to recede slightly into their sockets.
As you become more proficient and comfortable in the pose, learn to lift and lighten the body by actively grounding the crown of the head onto the floor. (Just as in Tadasana, where grounding your feet creates a rebounding action up through the legs and torso, grounding your head in Sirsasana rebounds up through your body.) After all, the pose is called Headstand, not Forearmstand. Eventually your arms bear very little weight, serving merely as outriggers to maintain balance, and the pose feels light and nearly effortless.
In the early stages of practice, stay in the pose for three minutes. If you experience any pain or compression in your neck, try adjusting your upper torso by reestablishing the lift of the shoulders and mid-thoracic spine. If pain persists, come down, reposition your head, and go back up.
When you are correctly centered on the crown of your head, the back of your neck and your throat will be working in balance, and both will feel relaxed; the left and right sides of your neck will also be balanced and comfortable.
If you still experience pain or compression, come down. Avoid going up and down repeatedly, because this activity can disturb the nervous system. Instead, try again the next day. If you can’t seem to make your neck comfortable no matter what you do, ask an experienced teacher to look at your pose. (Even if you’re not having problems, it’s a good idea to get an expert opinion occasionally.)
How you come out of Sirsasana (or any pose, for that matter) is as important as how you go up. To come down, you essentially reverse the process of going up. As you exhale, bend the knees and lower them toward your chest, but keep lifting your shoulders and mid-thoracic spine. Lower both feet to the floor, maintaining the height of the hips and the length of the abdomen, so that you control your descent the whole way down. Always rest with your head down for at least half a minute—or until your head feels clear—before you sit up.
Practicing Headstand Away from the Wall
When you’ve learned to consistently maintain all the actions required for Headstand with the support of a wall, you’re ready to balance.
Place your knuckles 2 to 3 inches from the wall—a little further away than you’ve been practicing—and go up as usual. To take the buttocks and legs off the wall, stretch the legs straight up as before and move the mid-thoracic spine into the body toward the front chest. Take care not to poke the bottom ribs or lumbar spine forward.
As you come away from the wall, pull the mid-thoracic spine in, move the tailbone toward the pubis, and lift the buttocks and legs away from the wall. Keeping the tailbone in, move the front thigh muscles (the quadriceps) firmly onto the thigh bones (the femurs), and the femurs into the backs of the thighs (hamstrings). When you’ve aligned the pose correctly, the four natural curves of the spine are maintained; the neck, hip joints, knees, and ankles are in a straight line perpendicular to the floor; the belly is relaxed; and breathing deepens spontaneously.
When you are able to balance consistently 2 to 3 inches away from the wall, you are ready to perform Sirsasana in the middle of the room. Again, fear may sneak in and try to dissuade you from this next step. But your work up until now has prepared you, and you are ready. Be bold.
Arrange your padding in the middle of the room with the edge of your mat parallel to the wall you’ll be facing when you go upside down. Make sure there is ample space around you in all directions, because sooner or later (probably sooner) you are going to fall. (In fact, you may even want to practice a few controlled falls to disarm your fears.) When you do fall, tuck your knees in, release the clasp of your hands, relax, and tumble out of the pose onto your back like a child doing a somersault. Then get back up and try again. After three unsuccessful attempts, return to the wall to practice the pose. Try to balance in the middle of the room again the next day.
To go up in the middle of the room, proceed exactly as you’ve been practicing at the wall—up to the point where your feet are off the floor and your knees are bent and near your chest. At that point, keep the knees bent and raise them toward the ceiling until they are directly above your shoulders and hips. Having your legs in this position may increase your apprehension about falling over backward. You may be tempted to skip this step and try to take your legs straight up from the knees-near-the-chest position. Don’t do it. With your knees still bent, you will be better able to move the tailbone forward, move the femurs back, and align the hip girdle over the crown of the head.
From this position, stretch your legs up into the full pose. Apply everything you learned in your practice near the wall: Lift up firmly through your legs, actively ground the crown of your head onto the floor, relax your facial muscles and eyes, and breathe.
To come down, simply reverse the process of going up. Exhale, bend your knees, and lower your feet toward your buttocks before moving your knees toward your chest. Maintaining the length of your neck and spine, slowly lower your feet to the floor.
Once you learn to balance in the middle of the room, work on going up and coming down with straight legs. Since coming down is easier than going up (you’re going with gravity, instead of lifting against it), practice this movement first. In Headstand, lift the top of your kneecaps firmly with the quadriceps and keep moving the femurs into the backs of your legs. Begin lowering the legs without losing the engagement of your thigh muscles, moving the hips back slightly without overarching the lumbar spine. Since the muscles in the abdomen and lower back play an important role in preventing collapse, move the navel toward the spine and lift the sacrum away from the lumbar spine. Keep the mid-thoracic spine in and the shoulders lifting. Lower your straight legs as slowly and smoothly as possible, without jerky movements. Once you are able to come all the way down with straight legs in a steady, controlled movement, learn to go up by reversing the process. With your feet on the floor, lift the hips and stretch the legs, firmly gripping the tops of the kneecaps with the quadriceps. To lift the feet, tilt the hips slightly back and lift from the thighs, rather than lifting from the feet. If you maintain the action of the quadriceps, the feet will follow the lift of your thighs until you are upright.
Build up your time in Headstand (first to five minutes, later to 15 minutes or more), but don’t be ruled by the clock. Pay careful attention to the sensations that arise in your eyes, ears, head, neck, and back, both during the pose and after. Learn to adjust the pose and the time you spend in it depending on how you feel each day, so that you will receive the maximum benefits while avoiding problems. When you have learned Sirsasana well, the pose will be light, relaxed, and nearly effortless, and you will feel energized, calm, and clear-headed.
Once you learn Salamba Sirsasana, combine it with the inversions Shoulderstand and Plow Pose (Halasana) to form the cornerstone of your daily practice. Properly performed, these poses provide enormous physical benefits. Moreover, surmounting the fear and anxiety that you may encounter in the process will help give you great confidence, not only in your asana practice, but in yourself and your power to meet life with equanimity and courage.
When that happens, standing on your head will have changed from child’s play to yoga. Then, in those inevitable moments when your world turns upside down, you will know from your own experience that you can draw on a place deep within yourself that allows you to embrace each moment, upside down or not, with open eyes, open arms, and an open heart.
It’s no secret that actress Halle Berry is into working out. Through her #FitnessFriday Instagram posts, she’s been sharing the exercises and habits that keep her feeling strong and healthy—including yoga. She recently showed off an impressive headstand (topless, no less), and it just might encourage you to get upside down, too.
“Today I’m proud to share my new #yoga pose,” she wrote in her caption. “Thanks to all of you, I got super inspired and challenged myself to a headstand!” Check it out:
Mastering a headstand is an accomplishment worth celebrating—it’s a pretty challenging pose.
Physically, headstands require both balance and strength.
“Holding a headstand requires full-body strength,” Heather Peterson, yoga instructor and Chief Yoga Officer at CorePower Yoga, tells SELF. “Specifically, strength from your core, your triceps and lats, and the serratus anterior, which are the fingerlike muscles below your shoulder blades.” Your shoulders also have to be both strong and open, says Rebecca Weible, yoga instructor and owner and founder of Yo Yoga! in NYC.
Headstands also require a decent amount of mental strength.
“The number one thing I see people are challenged with in inversions is fear of being upside down,” says Weible. “You’re asking your body to do something that you’re always asking it not to do—99 percent of the time we’re trying to stay upright and on our feet.”
“While there is a sense of freedom when you’re completely inverted, it also creates a fear of being out of control or falling, which can lead to hesitation,” adds Peterson. Headstands are known as an inversion pose, which just means your head is below your heart. (Technically, Downward Dog is also an inversion.) Yogis often say that these inversions are great for flipping your perspective—literally.
“When you’re upside down, you’re changing your relationship with gravity and how you look at things,” says Weible. “There’s something about being upside down and changing your perspective that’s really uplifting.” Not to mention, headstands do make for a pretty cool photo opp.
If you’re feeling inspired to try one yourself, there are a few things that can help you.
“I continue to challenge each of you to try new poses as well and share them with me by tagging #FitnessFridayHB,” Berry wrote in her caption. If a headstand is on your list of poses to master one day, there are a few steps you can take to work up to it.
1. Come into a tabletop position facing the wall. Your elbows should be about a foot and a half from the wall.
2. Bring your forearms to the ground with your elbows where your hands had been and your hands in front of you. Ensure there is still about a foot between your hands and the wall.
3. Interlace your hands and release your pinkies so that the edges of your pinkies are flat against the ground. Your arms should now be in an equilateral triangle in which there is equal distance between your elbows.
4. Place the crown of your head on the ground so that your hands are interlaced nicely cupping the upper back of your head.
5. Lift your hips up into a downward-facing dog position and walk your feet as close to your elbows as possible.
6. Begin to lift one foot off the ground and use your abs to pull one knee into your chest followed by your second knee.
7. Using your ab muscles lift both legs slowly towards the ceiling, begin to think about slowly stacking your body up into a straight position.
8. If needed, use the wall for assistance, by gently placing your ankle against it as you gain your balance. Do not kick up to the wall. You should be moving slowly and deliberately, using your muscles, not momentum.
9. Once you’re in the pose, your hips should be over your shoulders, knees over hips and ankles over knees. Try to disperse your weight across your forearms and shoulders. You should not feel significant weight on your head.
10. To come out of the pose, reverse what you did to lift up into it. Slowly bring one knee and then the other into your chest and then lower them onto the ground. Fold your body into a downward facing dog.Yoga how to headstand