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How to Do a Headstand Safely

Updated on September 14, 2017

How to Do a Headstand

Headstand, called Sirsasana in Sanskrit, the language the classical texts of yoga were first written down in, is nicknamed "The King of the Asanas." It is a posture with tremendous benefits, but because of its obvious risks, it is not for beginners. To practice headstand safely takes arm and shoulder strength, core stability, hip flexibility, and steadiness of mind.

If you are learning headstand for the first time from this article, stop right now and sign up for yoga classes at a yoga studio near you where an experienced teacher can assess your readiness to begin a headstand practice, and can supervise you through the first steps.

It is unsafe to practice headstand if you have back or neck injuries, high blood pressure, or eye problems like detached retina. As the body turns upside down, blood pressure increases in the head and can result in serious health concerns, including paralysis or death, so protect yourself and practice yoga safely.

If you have already begun to learn headstand, you can strengthen your practice by taking care to always move through these eight basic steps.

How to Do a Headstand Safely

Headstand Sirsasana Step 1

Headstand Sirsasana Step 1:  measure the width of your elbows
Headstand Sirsasana Step 1: measure the width of your elbows | Source

Heastands Sirsasana Step 1: Measure the Foundation

Relax in Child Pose for a few breaths before you begin, to allow the blood pressure to level in the body in preparation for the inversion. Then measure the width of your elbows by bringing each hand to the outside of each elbow. This will place your elbows under your shoulders with your humerus bones in your upper arms vertical.

Headstand Sirsasana Step 2

Headstand Sirsana Step 2:  clasp your hands to make a tripod
Headstand Sirsana Step 2: clasp your hands to make a tripod | Source

Headstand Sirsasana Step 2: Form the Triangular Base

Make a tripod with your hands by clasping them together without moving your elbows from where you placed them under your shoulders. Tuck your lowest baby finger inside your palm so it doesn't hurt as you go up into the headstand.

Headstand Sirsasana Step 3

Headstand Sirsana Step 3:  Place head
Headstand Sirsana Step 3: Place head | Source

Headstand Sirsasana Step 3: Place your Head

Place the midpoint between the hairline and the crown on the ground in front of the palms, with the hands and thumbs cradling the occipital ridge, the bony ridge at the back of the skull.

From here on through each next step, keep the arms and hands actively pressing into the ground and the hands actively squeezing the back of the skull. This distributes your body weight evenly along the bones of the lower arms and hands, and will allow very little weight to rest on the head.

Headstand Sirsasana Step 4

Headstand Sirsana Step 4:  Walk the feet toward the face
Headstand Sirsana Step 4: Walk the feet toward the face | Source

Headstand Sirsasana Step 4: Walk the Feet toward the Face

Keeping your arms and hands active, start to walk your feet toward your face and lift your hips toward vertical above your shoulders.

Headstand Sirsasana Step 5

Headstand Sirsana Step 5:  Transfer the weight to the arms.  This is Half Headstand.  If this is enough for you, stop here and then go back into Child Pose.  As you develop strength and confidence, the remaining steps will be easy.
Headstand Sirsana Step 5: Transfer the weight to the arms. This is Half Headstand. If this is enough for you, stop here and then go back into Child Pose. As you develop strength and confidence, the remaining steps will be easy. | Source

Headstand Sirsasana Step 5: Transfer the Weight to the Hands

Once your hips are vertical, you will feel your feet become very light as the weight transfers into your arms in Half Headstand. For many students, this is far enough. You may stay here and breathe and master the balance as you build strength in the arms, and come down to Child Pose when you are ready.

Headstand Sirsasana Step 6

Headstand Sirsana Step 6:  Unfold the thighs to vertical
Headstand Sirsana Step 6: Unfold the thighs to vertical | Source

Headstand Sirsasana Step 6: Unfold the Thighs

Keeping the elbows and hands pressing into the ground to hold your balance, and holding the back of your skull tightly with your hands, start to lift your thighs to vertical above your hips, as you keep the legs bent at the knees.

Many beginners are tempted to jump up into the posture, but this causes instability and makes real progress difficult. It is helpful to unfold the body section by section from the bottom, to keep a low centre of gravity and stabilize the balance after each move. Work with concentration and control, stop along the way to refocus on your breath, and keep engaging our shoulders and core.

Headstand Sirsasana Step 7

Headstand Sirsana Step 7:  Unfold the shins and feet to vertical
Headstand Sirsana Step 7: Unfold the shins and feet to vertical | Source

Headstand Sirsasana Step 7: Unfold the Lower Legs and Feet

Finally, unfold the lower legs and bring the shins and feet into vertical alignment.

Headstand Sirsasana Step 8

Press the hands and elbows into the floor and lift the chest out of the shoulders, engage the abdominals to lift the hips away from the ribs, hold the thighs together and lift them toward the ceiling, and relax the feet.  Hold the position.  Breathe.
Press the hands and elbows into the floor and lift the chest out of the shoulders, engage the abdominals to lift the hips away from the ribs, hold the thighs together and lift them toward the ceiling, and relax the feet. Hold the position. Breathe. | Source

Headstand Sirsasana Step 8: Hold, Meditate, and Breathe

Now hold the position and breathe. Run though the checklist:

  • Keep pressing your shoulders away from your ears.
  • Keep pressing your arms and hands into the floor.
  • Keep squeezing the back of your skull.
  • Unclench your teeth.
  • Keep lifting your chest out of your shoulders.
  • Engage your abdominals and lift your hips away from your ribs.
  • Hold your thighs together and lift them away from your hips.
  • Keep lifting your feet away from your ankles.
  • Relax your feet. Don't point your toes. Picture life energy, or prana, entering into your being through the chakra, or energy centre in the balls of the feet.

Notice how this checklist keeps every muscle group actively lifting the bones and organs in its body section, lightening the weight on the arms and head, and stabilizing the entire posture.

Although at first it seems very busy, headstand becomes a pose of poise and stillness, as you master the balance and understand the inverted spatial orientation.

Hold it for as long as you wish, then come down before you need to, so you can come down with control by reversing the sequence of steps you used to move into it. Once your feet touch the ground, bend your knees and relax in Child Pose for three to five breaths, then lie on your back in Svasana corpse Positon, and relax. This allows the energetic echo of the pose to move through your energetic and physical body, and helps you fully benefit from the Headstand you just did.

Child Pose Balasana

Rest in Child Pose to allow the blood pressure to equalize and to ease tension from the neck.  Then lie on your back in  Svasana Corpse Position.
Rest in Child Pose to allow the blood pressure to equalize and to ease tension from the neck. Then lie on your back in Svasana Corpse Position. | Source

Headstand Sirsasana Variations

Once you are comfortable in Headstand, you can work on more advanced variations like the ones shown below. Practice with a partner when you are beginning. The partner stands at your back like a wall, offering you psychological support, or lightly supporting your hips and cuing you to where vertical is. Partner practice is better than practicing against a wall, for most students get attached to the wall and find it scary to leave it to master free-standing Headstand.

Headstand Sirsasana Variations

Side Splits in Headstand
Side Splits in Headstand | Source
For Vrischikasana Scorpion from Headstand, bend the knees and drop the feet toward the back body as you lift the head and look forward.  To come out, plant the head in the hands again first, then straighten the legs.
For Vrischikasana Scorpion from Headstand, bend the knees and drop the feet toward the back body as you lift the head and look forward. To come out, plant the head in the hands again first, then straighten the legs. | Source

Do You Practice Headstand in Yoga?

Do you practice Headstand in yoga?

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Some Benefits of Headstand Sirsasana

Is it worth the trouble to master this pose? Yes, provided you learn it slowly and safely. It's benefits are peerless:

  • reverses the body's relationship with gravity, to slow down the effects of aging
  • reverses the pressure on the valves in the heart, allowing the heart to rest
  • allows toxins and metabolic wastes to drain from the bottom of the feet and legs and the lower cells of the organs
  • increases the circulation of antibodies through the lymph system, which does not have a pump but relies on gravity to keep fluids moving.
  • increases blood flow to the brain and head, clearing the mind and toning the skin of the face.
  • quiets the mind

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    • Janis Goad profile image
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      Janis Goad 5 years ago

      It takes upper body and abdominal strength to keep the balance, and some flexibility in the hips to get up into the posture. It is best to learn from a teacher, and build the foundation skills first over time. Then the whole thing is easy.

    • Just Ask Susan profile image

      Susan Zutautas 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I can remember watching my grandfather doing headstands and was always amazed at how he did this. I'm really unbalanced when it comes to anything like this. You make it look a bit easier though with your step by step instructions.

    • Janis Goad profile image
      Author

      Janis Goad 5 years ago

      Thanks for visiting, Wilderness. Holding the position while continuing to breathe is where the benefit of all the yoga poses comes in, but it is important to start with easier poses first. Headstand is not a beginner's pose. People learn it with a teacher, who stands behind them and spots, even holds their feet as they learn to balance.

      Judi Bee, spending time upside down every day is tremendously beneficial. Even lying with your legs up the wall, with your hips raised slightly resting on a pillow is good. Don't try headstand without a teacher.

    • Judi Bee profile image

      Judith Hancock 5 years ago from UK

      Oooh, looks very difficult but you explain it well! Bearing in mind your advice in your Skin Care for over 50s about being upside down to slow ageing, maybe I should give it a try! Pinning it for reference in case I work up the nerve to do it...

    • wilderness profile image

      Dan Harmon 5 years ago from Boise, Idaho

      You've got to be kidding! Step 8 "Hold, meditate, breathe" - I have enough trouble with that sitting on the couch!

      Seriously, this is great information - you've done well in describing the steps, making it understandable for everyone.

    • Janis Goad profile image
      Author

      Janis Goad 5 years ago

      Hi Chrissie, you can start with some of the easier ones first...

    • chrissieklinger profile image

      chrissieklinger 5 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Wow! Very impressive...I might work up the nerve to try this one day!