Headstand, or sirsasana, is arguably one of the most challenging inversions for the beginning yoga practitioner, but it doesn’t have to be. There are a lot of reasons why students are intimidated by this posture, but a common refrain has to do with a fear of falling. I totally get it: precariously balancing upside down is enough to cause consternation among even the most confident of yogis. Still, this posture is worth mastering. There are many psychological and physical benefits to headstand, including reducing stress and regulating the lymphatic, nervous, and circulation systems.
It took me over a year before I could confidently balance in headstand without a wall or teacher assist. But now, headstand is one of my favorite yoga postures, which I practice daily at the end of the Ashtanga yoga intermediate series. Over time, I’ve picked up a lot of no-fail tips and tricks to stabilize myself in this inversion. Try these for yourself (with a friend or in front of a wall if you’re not able to balance on your own), and you’ll be a headstand expert in no time!
1. Don’t ever jump or kick up into headstand. This can be really tempting, especially at first when this feels like the only way to enter the pose. But kicking up into headstand is inadvisable, not only because you could injure your neck or shoulders, but also because it’s pretty much guaranteed that you’ll fall over. Too much force in the entry will ultimately force you over and you’ll fall flat on your back. In the photo below, I’m demonstrating the wrong way to enter headstand. While it’s fine to come up one leg at a time when you’re first learning, you don’t want to expend all your energy in getting your feet off the ground. Also, notice that my feet are too far away from my head, and my hips are not stacked over my shoulders.
2. Put your weight in your forearms, not your head. Once you’ve walked your feet in towards your head, transfer your weight to your shoulders and forearms. It’s important to make sure your shoulders are engaged the whole time, and that they don’t collapse. With your shoulders engaged, you should feel more weight in your forearms than your head. The forearms are more stable than the top of the head, and you can use them as a base once you’re inverted.
3. Engage the lower belly. Along with stabilizing the forearms and shoulders, a strong core is essential for a good headstand. I don’t mean that you need a six-pack to balance, but you do need an internal core strength that you can maintain before and during the pose. This is the same core strength that will help you eventually lift up with both legs (as opposed to one at a time).
Try the exercise shown below: once you achieve a balance in headstand, slowly lower down halfway and hold the pose for a full ten breaths. Then, instead of coming down, return your legs to a full headstand. Repeat until your core is on fire!
4. Go back to basics. I see a lot of videos on Instagram and Facebook where people are trying to do all kinds of “party tricks” in headstand, like doing the splits or twisting them together. This is all well and good, but a lot of the time these people still struggle to balance in a basic headstand! Before trying more advanced postures, simply master balancing in a headstand for 10-20 breaths. Once you build up that stability, you’ll be surprised how much stronger you feel in variations of the pose.
5. Remember to take child’s pose! You should always take two minutes to recover in child’s pose after an inversion. This is a nice counter stretch (especially if you have tight hip flexors!) and helps the body reorient itself after being upside down for a while.
What are your best tips for balancing in headstand?
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Photo: Pixabay via Tessa Mannonen; Molly Lansdowne