Why and How to do Headstands (Properly)
Referred to as the King of the yoga Asanas, Headstand (or Sirsasana in Sanskrit) has immense physical and mental benefits. Thought it can be scary to try inversions at first, this pose is definitely worth overcoming your fear of going upside down. It is important to practice it safely (our tips below!), only if you are in good physical condition and practice with the guidance of a teacher.
-Very calming. Helps to relieve stress and fatigue
-Improves concentration and increases memory
-Stimulates the pineal and pituitary glands
-Has an influence on all hormones of the body, helps for menopause symptoms
-Strengthens the core, back, arms and shoulders
-Increases the blood flow to the head, brain and eyes
-Improves the blood circulation, good for varicose veins
-Calms the central nervous system
-Headache and migraines
-Neck or shoulder injury
-Vertigo and dizziness
-Conditions of the spine and neck, like a slipped disk or spondylosis
-Pregnant women: It is safe to practice headstand while pregnant if you are already experimented with this pose. We don’t recommend working on this pose during pregnancy because of the risk of falling. Also, if you are not used to getting into headstand, the transition may cause a lot of intra-abdominal pressure which can aggravate or cause diastasis recti.
Now that it’s out of the way and you now know you can practice headstands safely, here’s how to do it.
To get into the king of asanas without any preparation or warm up is not the best idea. This pose requires some flexibility in the shoulders and in the legs, as well as core, shoulders and back strength. Start with a few sun salutations to warm up. Practice downward facing dog to warm and strengthen the back. You should also do the Dolphin; it opens up the shoulders to the position they need to be in headstand. It also strengthens the muscles you’ll need to push yourself off the floor and avoid putting too much pressure on your neck. Try doing a few forward stretches like Padahastasana to prepare your legs.
How to get into your headstand
1-Practice on a soft surface to protect your head. Fold your yoga mat or a blanket or practice outside on a soft surface natural surface like grass.
2-Sit on your knees. Grab opposite elbows to measure the right distance. Set your elbows and forearms on the floor and interlace your fingers. Keep your bottom little finger tucked or you might squeeze it! If you’ve done it right, your forearms should create a triangle with your elbows at shoulders distance.
3- Set the crown of your head on the floor. Place the back of your head into your cupped palms.
4- Lift your knees off the floor and start walking your feet towards your head. Push the hips towards to ceiling. Keep your shoulders away from ears and push in your forearms to keep an active and long torso to avoid collapsing in your neck.
5- There are different ways to come into the pose, but we recommend to never hop into it as it can be bad for your neck. Instead, lift both legs together at the same time if you have enough core strength. If not, you can bring one leg to the chest and follow with the other leg.
6- Bring your legs up and straighten the knees. Look at a focus point and don’t forget to breathe. Don’t focus on the fear of falling but focus on lifting your whole body towards the ceiling. Hold for as long as comfortable.
7-When you are ready to come out of the pose, slowly bring both legs down so they reach the ground at the same time. Keep control and don’t collapse in your neck. Follow with Child pose.
Video down below
-Keep your shoulders away from your ears and press firmly in your forearms. This will protect your neck from getting too much pressure. Beginners tend to put too much weight on the head. At the beginning, try to have a weight ratio of 80/20 in the arms vs the head. With time, add more and more weight to the head to reach the opposite ratio of 20% in the arms, 80% on the head.
-Keeping your feet flexed and pressing the heels to the ceiling will help to activate your legs. Your legs shouldn’t be a weight that you try to balance on top of an active torso; they should be active and part of the pose too.
-Imagine your body as a building; each part has to stack on top of each other or it will fall. Head, shoulders, hips and ankles should form a straight line from the side. Ask for someone to look at you and give you cues.
Wall or not wall. That is the question.
At the beginning, you can practice in front of a wall if you are scared of falling over. We don’t recommend you practice against a wall because it doesn’t teach you the proper muscle engagement to keep your balance. You’ll have a tendency to put your weight towards the wall instead of up and forget to be well grounded in your arms and head which can lead to injuries.
People who practice with a wall also have a tendency to come into the pose by hopping, knowing they have a wall to catch them. Not only this is bad for your neck but it doesn’t teach you how to come into headstands with control and the right muscle engagement.
Headstand for beginners:
If you are only beginning with headstands and feel you lack the strength or the confidence to do the full pose, here’s how you can still reap some of the benefits:
-Work on your dolphin pose and dolphin movement. It is an inversion too which has many benefits and it will strengthen your shoulders and back muscles to eventually do headstands.
-Follow our steps to get into the headstand but stop after step 4. Stay here and feel how it is like to be upside down.
-From step 4, lift only one leg towards the ceiling to feel what the pose is like. When you are ready, bring it down and lift the other leg. With practice, you’ll feel you will have the strength and courage to come into the full headstand.
-Follow all the steps until after step 5. Stay here with your knees to the chest. If you get there, chances are you can lift your legs up. What’s holding you is probably only your fear of falling. Try doing it in front of a wall to gain courage while you get used to the pose knowing there’s a wall to catch you just in case.
Getting comfortable in your headstand?
-Try extending the amount of time you spend in your headstand. If you are comfortable keeping the pose for 30 seconds, try adding a few seconds every day to reach 3 minutes. The more you do it, the more you’ll feel you are able to stay for a longer period of time. In the Hatha traditions, it is said that yogis can keep the pose for 10 minutes to reap the full benefits and can keep it for as long as they can without an maximum amount of time.
-Try leg variations. Wide legged headstand, legs in butterfly, in a split with one leg front and one back, in a lotus position, etc. Have fun here, but make sure you go slow to keep your balance and focus.
-Try arm variations. The headstand we explained above is the supported headstand but you can try tripod, hands up and iron cross headstands too