Headstand is a quite a controversial pose. While it's known as the 'King of Poses' in certain traditions, some teachers feel the weight on the neck is too great a risk and no longer teach it for that reason. These notes are only meant as a guide if you're interested in the pose. (I like it!) To avoid injury, I recommend practising one to one with a teacher at first, who can help you understand safe alignment.
Step by step
• Start your Headstand journey by practising Dolphin pose. Once you are able to stay in Dolphin for 25 breaths, you could start working towards Headstand. It's possible to injure yourself, if you rush in before you're ready, so I recommend working one to one with a teacher who can guide you to begin with.
• To find the right head placement on the floor, place the heel of your hand on the bridge of your nose and notice where your middle finger reaches the head. That’s the spot you want to place on the floor.
• Start in all fours, your elbows directly under your shoulders.
• Take hold of the elbows with the opposite hands to ensure that your elbows are shoulder-width apart.
• This alignment is essential to build the right foundation for your pose and access your upper body strength.
• Tuck your toes under and come up into Dolphin. Bend your knees if needed, to find length in the spine.
• Interlace your fingers, tucking the bottom little finger in. Snuggle your head in your hands. Root the forearms in the floor. Tuck your toes and lift your hips up. Keep your knees bent if you need to.
• Bend one knee into the chest, then the other knee, keeping most of the weight in your arms. On an inhalation bring your legs up in line with the rest of the body: hips above shoulders and ankles above hips.
• Lengthen the tailbone up towards the heels. Root your elbows down and knit your ribs in.
• To come out of the pose, bend your knees and bring your feet to the buttocks, knees to the chest, and with control place your feet back on the floor. Rest in Child’s Pose.
• Whether you choose to practise the full pose or not, building up strength in the arms, shoulders and core first is essential preparation. This preparation work will help you with your whole yoga practice and in many ways is more challenging than being in Headstand - so be patient.
• Core strengthening work will help with all inversions. Simply holding Plank Pose and Downward Dog for 1 to 2 minutes is a great place to start. Next, work on Dolphin Pose, and then Forearm Balance or Handstand to get used to being upside down without any weight on the neck.
• Draws fresh blood into the upper body while stimulating drainage and circulation to the legs. • It quietens the mind and so prepares you for meditation. • Strengthens the arms, core, legs and back. • Improves mood for many people.
Watch out for...
• Don’t attempt Headstand if you have any neck, spine or shoulder problems.
• Inversions such as Headstand (poses where your heart is above your head) are not recommended if you have high blood pressure or glaucoma.
• Some women prefer not to practise inversions like Headstand while they are menstruating as they feel it goes against the natural flow.
• With the right alignment, Headstand should feel light, and your neck should feel uncompressed and long. If it doesn't, keep the weight in your arms and keep strengthening your foundation.
• Legs Up The Wall Pose is a good alternative which still provides many benefits that inversions offer.
• Try placing the left foot flat on the floor with the toes pointing forward.
• For a more intense stretch, try using your core muscles to hold you in place, allowing your lower hand to hover above the extended leg.
• You can practise Half-Headstand with one or both of the legs at 90 degrees parallel to the floor. • There are several leg variations including bringing the soles of the feet together and knees out in Cobblers Pose, Eagle Pose legs (Garudasana), or Lotus pose.
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