Are you wondering how to do a yoga headstand?
Shirshasana, or headstand, was referred to as ‘the king of asana‘ by B.K.S. Iyengar. This is simply because of all of the amazing benefits that we can receive from practicing this pose
This is a pose that I was desperate to achieve when I started attending yoga classes as a beginner, but one that unfortunately didn’t just come from throwing my legs against a wall and hoping for the best (I know as I tried this technique many, many times).
It’s really important that we learn how to do a yoga headstand in a safe way that minimizes the likelihood of injuring our neck. As most yogis can attest to, the headstand is an asana that can not be rushed into.
In this article, we will be covering:
- Benefits of shirshasana
- The 6 best preparatory poses to build strength and stability
- 3 Alternative asanas
- How to do a yoga headstand in 8 steps
- 4 Alignment Tips
who should not practice shirshasana?
Before we start, we should also look at who should avoid practicing headstands if you:
- Have hypertension (high blood pressure), as it can raise your blood pressure further
- Have any serious cardiac/heart problems
- Are a child under the age of 7 as their skulls aren’t hard enough or fully fused yet
- Are pregnant, as there is always a risk of falling out of the headstand
- Have any neck or shoulder injuries due to the increased pressure on these parts of the body
- Suffer from severe headaches or migraines, as having your head in an upside-down position can set off or worsen the pain
This pose is called the king of asana for a reason and there are so many different benefits. Like any asana, a headstand will support different people in different ways.
A selection of benefits can include:
- Stimulates the lymphatic system
- Boosts the digestive system
- Strengthen the upper body, core and spine
- Activates the pituitary & pineal glands
- Increases focus
- Decreases stress
- Decreases heart rate
- Increases blood flow to brain & eyes
- Boosts energy
- Enhances lung capacity
- Relieves symptoms of fibromyalgia
6 preparation poses
#1: Marjaryasana Bitilasana (Cat/Cow Pose)
- Do this with the knees hovering off the mat to create some extra heat in the core
This asana will release tension and bring postural awareness to the shoulders and upper back area.
#2: Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog)
- Add some reps of 3-legged downward facing dog
This is not only a great asana to prepare the body by stretching the hamstrings and opening the shoulders, but it also strengthens the upper and lower body too.
You might want to add this into your practice if you are trying to practice first thing in the morning or after long periods of non-movement, it will help the body to feel less tight.
#3: Tadasana Gomukhasana (Standing Cow Face Pose)
This will support a headstand by preparing you to extend and externally rotate the upper arms. You can choose to do this seated if you wish, but doing this in tadasana builds a good base for engagement in your legs that will be necessary as you lift the legs in the air.
#4: Phalakasana (Plank Pose)
- Forearm plank, hand plank or both!
One of the key things we want to work on strengthening is our core, this is because in a headstand we will be working our abdominal and oblique muscles. So, of course, we had to include a plank!
This is one of the most versatile poses that spans many forms of movement practice, for good reason. Phalakasana will help us to strengthen the core and shoulder muscles, which is where we want to be putting emphasis on during our headstand.
To add some extra flow, you can move between plank and dolphin or downward facing dog pose.
#5: Catur Svanasana (Dolphin Pose)
- Lift the legs alternatively to train the strength of the shoulders and core
- Turn them into dolphin chin tucks by hinging forward through the shoulders and bringing the chin towards the floor
With the forearms weight bearing in this pose, it makes it a more challenging version of Adho Mukha Svanasana.
This builds strength and stability in the upper body but also mimics the protraction of the shoulder blades and upward rotation of the shoulders we need in the headstand.
#6: Prasarita Padottanasana (Intense Leg Stretch Pose)
- Once you get confident in this asana you can also enter shirshasana directly from here, keeping the hands in a tripod position for extra support
This is great preparation for a headstand as you are practicing putting the body weight on the head whilst maintaining integrity and tightness in the legs.
It also helps us adjust to the sensation of being upside down and lifting the shoulders against the force of gravity.
3 Headstand Modifications
Any of these asanas are great preparatory, modification or transition poses for a full headstand.
#1: Ardha Sirsasana (Half Headstand)
This is a great pose if you feel like you don’t have the confidence to lift your legs off the floor yet, or if a headstand isn’t available to you.
This will also help you or your teacher to see if there are any alignment issues before you go into the full posture.
1. From tabletop, bring the elbows to the ground and interlace the fingers creating a cup for the crown of the head
2. Shift forward and place the top of the head on the ground and allowing the crown of the head to rest in the hands with the knees still on the ground
3. Keeping the feet on the ground, start to slowly extend the legs and shift the weight into the arms & shoulders until you have stacked the hips over the pelvis and the back is long
4. Once the pelvis is over the hips, press the forearms into the mat and push shoulders away from the ears (engage upper body muscles)
5. Stay here and breathe feeling the strength in your arms and shoulders. Release back to your knees when ready.
#2: Akunchanasana (Squeezing Pose)
Once you are comfortable in half headstand, you may want to transition into this pose.
This is another great one for building your confidence and all the strength you need for a headstand, especially the core!
1. This requires the same set-up as ardha sirsasana from steps 1-4
2. Pull one knee at a time in towards the chest and squeeze the legs in towards the belly
3. Stay here for as long as you can, remembering to breathe!
#3: Eka Pada Sirsasana (One Legged Headstand)
You may find this requires more strength than the squeezing pose, as one leg is extended all the way over head. This is a great combination of flexibility, strength and balance.
1. Repeat the above steps through 1-4
2. Keeping one foot on the floor, squeeze one leg into the belly with the knee bent
3. Once you feel balanced, work on extending the bent leg upwards. Keep the leg engaged with the ankle over the hip
4. Return the leg back towards the belly and then place it down on the floor. Repeat with the other leg
You could also practice this with the grounded leg on a chair for some extra height.
how to do a yoga headstand In 8 Steps
1. Come into balasana (child’s pose) or vajrasana (thunderbolt pose)
2. Place the forearms on the mat with the palms facing one another or interlace the hands
3. Whilst the knees stay on the floor, place the crown of the head inside the cupped hands It’s important to make sure you are on the crown of the head and not any other part, as we want to maintain proper alignment and a solid foundation
4. Here, your shoulder blades should be externally rotating. Start to extend the legs and move the hips forward until they are over the shoulders. Your head, shoulders, spine, and hips should be in one line
5. Bring both or one leg at a time in towards the belly. You can come into squeezing pose or one legged headstand here. Ideally, we want only 10-20% of our bodyweight to be in the head
6. Start to transition into a headstand. Lift the legs, individually or together, whilst keeping all parts of the body engaged. Thighs are thighs squeezed inwards and knee caps are lifted. The core and the back are active. Don’t kick up as your movements need to be controlled
7. Allow the breath to be as easy as possible, don’t hold the breath
8. To get out of a headstand, reverse these steps by slowly bringing the knees in towards the chest and then lowering the feet to the ground
4 Alignment tips
The most stable position for the neck in a headstand is for it to maintain its natural curve. The neck should not feel compressed in any way, if it does, then move out of the asana.
This might also mean that you are putting too much weight into the head and not taking enough body weight with the arms and shoulders. You can practice some strengthening asanas such as plank or dolphin pose to help get you ready for a headstand.
When we place the crown on the head on the floor, the neck should feel long and uncompressed.
#2: Legs and Feet
Press up through the soles of the feet, a mistake during this asana can be that the feet are inactive. There is an active foot arch that should align over the pelvis.
Keep the legs as active as possible, and squeeze the thighs together. Keep the ankles over the knees and the knees over the hips.
Strongly engage the core to keep the body in a straight line. The navel is pulled in to support the lower back.
#4: Arms and Shoulders
Shoulders are pulled down and away from the ears. Press into the elbows to engage the shoulders.
Elbows are squeezing in towards one another.
Practicing in a flow
Now you know how to do a yoga headstand! If you want to incorporate your newly learned asana into a flow, you can do a class like this.