Headstand, or Sirsasana, is an intermediate pose practiced in yoga. Usually you find it towards the end of the practice, but you could also do a headstand in the middle of the practice (maybe for 5-7 breaths) or at the very beginning of the class when you practice Hatha Sivananda.
In this position, the body is totally inverted, with the head on the floor and the feet in the air. Some people find it fun to practice inverted poses, while others feel it's a bit scary due to the fear of falling down and injuring themselves.
The Mental Block
Before we get into the practical instructions required for this pose, it’s worth taking a moment to explore the feelings that come with attempting a headstand, such as fear.
Maybe you had an overprotective parent who was constantly telling you,‘Don’t climb that fence because you’ll fall off that ladder or you’ll break your neck!’ ‘Don’t do that! Don’t go there!’ So on and so forth If this is the case, then your body has stored these experiences and it’s the mental fear that is stopping you from trying a headstand, despite the fact that your physical body could be ready to do it.
Over the years, our fears grow deep within us and we are conditioned to internalize this way of thinking. We try to protect ourselves by not doing anything related to fun because it’s dangerous. We simply stay in our comfort zone. Yoga requires us to take many different positions with our body and through these positions, we see our physical and mental limitations, and slowly through the practice, we conquer them and grow. The poses become therapeutic, allowing us to also conquer our mental blocks and fears.
Back to our headstand now….
Let’s make this clear right from the start: Headstand is not for beginners
Now the question is: who is considered a beginner?
A beginner is someone who practices yoga irregularly, who needs to rest in child’s pose after a few poses, makes no progress and mainly has no flexibility or strength from previous sports/hobbies. If you have been practicing ballet for 10 years, you will have a lot of flexibility and you may find some poses easier than others. You might be a beginner in yoga but you already have the flexibility to try more advanced poses. If you are new to yoga with no other background in sports, then it’s advisable to obtain a regular yoga practice (4 times a week for 2 years at least) and then try more challenging yoga asanas.
An advanced beginner in yoga, on the other hand, is one who:
Practices regularly (4-5 times a week)
doesn’t need to rest in child’s pose in a beginner’s practice
has good and steady breath during a flowing yoga practice (doesn’t run out of breath)
knows alignment and modifications for the poses
Headstand requires flexibility in:
hamstrings (the muscles at the back of your legs). Prepare your body with Prasarita, Padangusthasana, half split, pyramid pose.
shoulders. Prepare them with half cow-face posture, eagle arms, prasarita C arms, dolphin pose keeping the gaze on the belly button.
Headstand requires strength in:
the shoulders. Prepare yourself with dolphin dips.
abdominal muscles, prepare with boat pose
back muscles, prepare the body with high plank and chaturanga dandasana.
How to make the most of this post
Practice everything mentioned under the title “So how do you do a headstand”
How to set up the correct foundation for headstand
In yoga speak, ‘foundation’ refers to the part of the body which is in contact with the floor.
In this case, it’s the lower arms and the top of the head. However, most of the weight should be on the arms and not the head. You need to imagine that someone wants to pass a piece of paper underneath your head when you are in the headstand.
From a table-top position, place your arms on the floor. You want your upper arms to be parallel to each other and the elbows to be under the shoulders, not wider. In order to do this, when you wrap your arms, the knuckles of your hands need to be outside of your triceps.
Without moving your arms, interlace your fingers. Make sure that one pinky finger is tucked under the other pinky finger. In other words, don’t place the little fingers on top of each other. (see the 2 photos inserted in the video below) If they are on top of each other, then all your weight will be on 1 pinky finger and that’s gonna hurt - a lot. Once you place your hands on the floor and you look at your interlaced palms, you should be able see one pinky finger. All of it.
Press the forearms down onto the floor so that they don’t roll out. This is a necessary grounding action which needs to stay like this while you are in the pose. Don’t change the foundation.
Place the highest and flattest point of the head on the floor inside your palms. You can find this point by placing a book on your head and see where it balances. (My grandmother used to make me walk with a book on my head so as to perfect my posture)
Most of the weight has to be on the hands and not on the head. That’s why you have to press through the arms a lot and even imagine that you want to lift the head.
Proportions: the length of the upper arms in relation to the length of the neck+head
Go in front of a mirror, interlace the fingers and bring the hands over the head. Keep the elbows in the same line as the shoulders and don’t lift the shoulders towards the ears. Keep some space between the shoulders and the ears. What do you notice? Are your upper arms longer than the length of your neck + head together or are they shorter? If your upper arms are longer, then you’re good to go. If the upper arms are shorter, then you need to do one of the following: