How to headstand, a beginner's guide

Mastering a headstand in yoga is a wonderful feeling and it’s an inversion with many exceptional benefits when performed correctly; it strengthen shoulders and arms; develops strength in the core muscles; increases blood flow to the head and can help you feel more confident as you conquer your fears and orient the body in an unfamiliar situation. It has avery calming meditative affect when held for 5 breaths and upwards.

This sequence is to help you build the necessary core and shoulder strength building up towards a safe, strong bound headstand. The weight is balanced not on the head but evenly through the shoulders and arms and is supported by interlocking the hands with the arms forming a stable base.

You should avoid kicking up into headstand as this can result in going over, not only could this lead to potential injury but can affect confidence in inversions. Stay in half-headstand until you feel stable enough to extend the legs.

When we practice Sirsasana we must be mindful of the neck; in fact anyone with neck injuries should not practice headstand. We should work to put very little weight on the head but rather to support the body through the shoulders. Students with high/ low blood pressure or issues such as glaucoma or hiatal hernia should seek advice from a doctor before working on headstand.

Your 10 step sequence to a stronger headstand

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Step 1: Downward Dog

(Adho Mukha Svanasana )
This is an essential pose giving multiple benefits. Press your hands firmly into the mat and draw your shoulders away from your ears and your shoulder blades down your back. Squeeze your upper arms together as if you have a beach ball between them. Help to create more stability by drawing in the navel back towards the spine engaging the core.

Step 2: High Plank

Roll forward out of downward dog coming into a high plank. Press your hands firmly into the mat, push the space between your shoulder blades up creating a gentle arch. Push your heels away and lengthen the crown of the head forward, stay for 5 breaths. To warm the shoulder muscles you can push back into a downward dog then roll forward into high plank.

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Step 3: Forearm Plank

Move from high plank into forearm plank by lowering onto your forearms and walk the feet out. Focus on keeping the body in one straight line with your shoulders directly above your elbows. Keep your elbows shoulder distance apart, strengthening your core as well as your shoulders. Stay for 5 breaths; there is an option to lower the knees to the floor.

Step 4: Side Plank

(Vasisthasana)
Slowly work into this pose by rolling onto the outer edge of the foot, extending the upper arm up and keep the hips lifting up away from the floor. Start holding for 2 breaths then increase to 5. Variations include coming down onto the forearm or bending the knee and placing the upper leg and foot in front of the lower leg. Essential for arm balances as it focuses on balance, flexibility in the wrists, it also helps strengthen abdominal muscles and shoulders.

Step 5: Boat Pose

(Navasana)
Sit on the floor with your feet flat and spine straight. Extend the legs as much as possible so that the toes are at eye level, extend arms forward palms facing towards the midline. Hold for 5 breaths. A variation to help headstand specifically is to then clasp the hands behind the head and draw the elbows together, hold for 5 breaths.

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Step 6: Crow Pose

(Bakasana)
Squat down with your feet and knees hip width apart. Press the hands firmly down, fingers spread and have a slight bend in the elbows. Lift the hips and bring the right knee into the armpit or upper arms, or squeeze the outer arms with the knees, then repeat with the left knee. Bring the weight forward and up and lift the right foot then the left. Create a lifting action and slowly draw both feet up towards the sit bones. Stay for 5 breaths building strength in the hands, wrists and shoulders

Step 7: Dolphin Pose with extended leg

From forearm plank, walk your feet in toward your elbows, bring your feet into a shortened downward dog and keep the legs as straight as possible. You will feel the weight shift forward into the shoulders, keep drawing in the navel creating a lifting action. Work on extending the right leg high keeping both legs straight and the hips above and in line with the shoulders, then repeat on the left side.

Step 8: Arm Preparation

Come down onto your knees, wrap a hand around each elbow without lifting your elbows off the floor; try to keep your them parallel and in this position, avoiding moving apart. Then bring your hands together and interlock the fingers. Your elbows and hands will form a triangle. Lift your hips and forward whilst keeping your knees down. Place the top of your head into this “open basket” shape so that your hands are cupping the back of your head. Ensure you’re on the top of the head and that the head isn't pulling back or the chin tucked down too close to the throat.

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Step 9: Half-headstand

Keeping the head where it is as described in the arm prep, now extend the legs coming into a shortened downward dog with the head cupped by the hands. Try slowly walking further towards your elbows taking your hips further over your shoulders so the toes on the floor begin to lift off the mat. Bend the right knee, then try tucking both knees into your chest, and hold for five breaths.

Step 10: Headstand

(Sirsasana)
Keep the arm prep as previously described (image 8). Straighten your legs and walk your feet toward your head. Bend one knee and tuck it into your chest. Drawing the navel towards the spine and keeping the hips above the shoulders, lift your other leg off the floor so both knees are tucked into your chest. Slowly with control lift and straighten both legs up, coming into bound headstand, stay for 5 breaths. Then slowly bend your knees into your chest, lower your feet to the floor, and rest in child's pose.