Ever see yogi’s flip up into the headstand with grace and ease and wonder how the HECK they do that? How do they manage to balance with such grace with their feet above their head like that? While it’s a tricky pose, there are several poses you can practice to build up strength so one day YOU can be the one wowing people with your headstands!
Delving into the world of headstands can be tricky though. While it’s a fun pose that promises a multitude of benefits, if done improperly, over time it can leave you with disc degeneration, an unnecessary amount of stress on the shoulders and fragile neck bones, or possibly even stress fractures. It’s imperative to build up slowly and responsibly to limit injury to your neck. But don’t let that deter you! Once mastered, this pose is so fun and can lead the way to more exciting yoga poses!
So, how do you master the headstand without injuring yourself?
For one, don’t just jump into the pose; you have to work up to it slowly. Focus on building strength in your forearms and abdominal muscles, because they are what will be supporting you the most. Strength in your forearms allows you to be able to support your head properly, instead of putting all of the pressure on your head and neck. A strong core allows you to balance without wavering, which could reduce the risk of neck or head injury. You also want to build up strength in the shoulders and upper back, as they help support the weight of the body.
Benefits of the headstand:
- Increases circulation and blood flow to the brain
- Increased oxygen to the brain is known to help those who suffer from headaches or migraines, and can have a positive effect on memory recall.
- May help manage depression and stress
- Headstands are said to stimulate the pituitary gland, the gland responsible for the release of endorphins, the “feel-good” hormones associated with exercise. It can also reduce the production of cortisol, helping you manage those stress hormones!
- Builds a stronger core, shoulders, and arms
- Balancing upside down requires a strong core and upper body. Having strength in these muscles not only helps with yoga inversions, but it also benefits you in your everyday activities and decreases the chances of muscle degeneration with age.
- Improved digestion
- Inverting the body not only encourages bowel movements through stimulating the colon and intestines, but it also activates the pituitary gland, which plays a role in proper digestion.
- May help remove toxins from the body
- Going upside down stimulates the lymphatic system, the system known to help remove toxins from the blood.
5 Yoga Poses to Master the Headstand
1. Forearm or dolphin plank
Beginning on your hands and knees, place your forearms parallel to each other on the ground with your elbows aligned below the shoulders. You may keep your palms flat on the ground or clasp them together. Tuck your toes and step back your feet until your body forms a straight line, making sure not to hold the hips up too high or allow them to sag. Engage your abdominal muscles. Hold for 5 breaths, or 30 seconds.
2. Dolphin pose
From forearm plank position, raise your butt like you are going into downward facing dog, except allow the forearms to remain on the ground. Feel like you are pulling your tailbone toward your heels. Your body will form a V-shape. Hold for 5 breaths, or 30 seconds.
3. Shoulder stand
Lay on your back and place your hands on your sides, sort of cusping just above your hips. Lift your legs and bring them into a 90 degree angle to the rest of your body, forming an L-shape. Use your hands to push your hips and back up off the ground, holding them for support. Straighten out the legs, and point your toes toward the ceiling. Feel like you are pressing your shoulders into the mat. Hold for 5 breaths, or 30 seconds.
Start off on your hands and knees, shoulders hip width apart and hands pressed firmly into the mat. Slowly drop your head down onto the mat and adjust as needed so when your head is on the mat your elbows are at a 90 degree angle. From this position, straighten the legs and slowly walk them in closer to the body until you feel resistance from your hamstrings and back. Draw your knees in toward your body one at a time, allowing them to rest on the back of your arms. Hold for 5 breaths, or 30 seconds.
5. Wall-supported headstand
Facing the wall, get into dolphin pose, allowing your hands to rest next to the wall. From dolphin pose, drop your head to the floor and walk your feet in closer to your body, trying as best you can to stack your hips above your shoulders. Slowly lift your feet and pull your knees toward your chest, with feet up in the air. From there, bring your feet up one at a time, lengthening the legs as you come up until both legs are straight up towards the ceiling. Lean back into the wall for support. If you can’t do this movement slowly, you can try to gently kick your legs up into this position, being careful not to put too much pressure on the head or neck in the process. Once in the position, hold it for 5 breaths, or 30 seconds.
Once you’re ready….
Starting in dolphin position, place your head on the ground right behind your hands. Walk your feet forward until you feel resistance from your hamstrings and back. Try to pull your hips back so they are stacked above your shoulders. Doing this should raise your feet off the ground, almost like they are floating! Then curl your legs up, stack your knees about your hips, and gradually stretch your feet up to the sky!
Once you’re in the headstand position, focus on pushing into the ground with your forearms, allowing them to take the majority of the weight off your neck. If you feel like your neck is being compressed, your weight isn’t properly balanced, and you should either adjust so your forearms are taking more of the weight, or get down until you feel you have built enough strength to support yourself without compressing your head and neck. Try to keep your core engaged in the process which will help with balancing.