Headstand tips and tricks

In the article Controversy in the kingdom of asana, I briefly describe how headstands are being phased out of standard vinyasa routines.  In a nutshell, I believe that the approach of modifying these postures is better than pretending sirsasana never existed in the yoga pantheon.  That said, only a qualified instructor can personally advise you.  I’d like to offer some practical tips, in hopes that it will help elevate the dialogue between you and your teacher.

A brief cautionary word:

First, talk to your doctor if you currently or previously experienced any of the following health conditions before attempting a headstand.

  • Glaucoma or retinal problems
  • Uncontrolled hypertension
  • Meniere’s disease
  • Pregnancy
  • A neck injury or related pain

Generally, dolphin’s pose is great substitute if you have health concerns.

Ready? Let’s prepare:

  1. Find your crown.  You can use the distance between your chin and nose as a relative measure.  Simply count three measure lengths up from the tip of the nose.  For most people, the eyebrow center, ‘unicorn horn’, and finally the apex of the head can be found this way.
  2. Prepare your arms.  Form an equilateral triangle with your two elbows and palms as vertices.  This can be accomplished by taking your elbows with your palms, before planting these, then form a basket for your head by interlacing your fingers.
  3. Set up on the back third of your mat.  Place your head in your palms, plant your crown on the mat, then grip the base of your neck.  Walk your feet towards your elbows with your toes pointed.  Your back will inevitably be slanted toward the front of the mat before your feet lift off the ground.  Make sure to apply adequate downward force through your elbows.
Headstand with bent knees

Preparing for the lift:

  1. If you are accustomed to a keeping your legs strait upon lift off, when the weight in your feet becomes negligible, simply engage your low abdominal muscles to finish.
  2. Otherwise, bend your legs slightly in order to march your feet all the way to your elbows.  Upon lift off, your posture should appear similar to mine featured above.
  3. Try to resist the urge to straiten your legs.  Simply correct your torso by pivoting at the hips as featured below.  Not only does this approach offer better control, it also improves our core strength.
Headstand with a vertical back and bent legs

Ideas for further refinement:

  • Practice leg lifts or chair lifts to strengthen your core muscles.  These activities will help you engage your transverse abdominal muscles, in doing so, isolating the muscles beneath your core will become more and more manageable.
  • Be aware that your elbows may spread outwards when you lift up.  This effectively destabilizes the strong equilateral base you sought to establish in the first place.  If you are sweaty, make sure to practice setting up your base on a towel or yoga floor mat.  Also, don’t be afraid to lower out of headstand if you become unstable.
  • If you suddenly lose balance, the ability to fall correctly out of headstand can minimize harm to yourself or your neighbors.  I’ll give you a few pointers:
    • When I am falling backwards, I will tuck my neck and take the fall on my shoulder blades.
    • When I am falling to either side, I will bend from the hips then try to lower down on that side in slow motion.
Final expression of headstand. Thank you Kala!

Your headstand will become more steadier and more enjoyable with daily practice.  Good luck and make sure to keep your yoga teacher informed about your goals and progress.  He or she will be able to offer the best personalized help possible.

Feel free to share any of your headstand questions in the comment section below:


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