What is a Headstand?
The headstand has popularly been known as the ‘King of all asanas’. The upright position of the body is something we have had for at least 4 millions years. Our bones, nervous system and overall physiology has adjusted to this upright position. Now, to invert the body by standing on the head challenges this million-year evolutionary adaptation of the upright position of the body.
Making yoga’s headstand a fascinating skill to work on, this feat also demonstrates an individual's repeated efforts, discipline and control over body and mind. Headstand is, no doubt, an aspirational or dream asana for many who are drawn to yoga. Though the final posture itself requires little but refined effort, getting into and coming out of a headstand requires systematic preparation of the entire body, upper body strength, lightness in the lower body and good core strength. Such upper body focused asanas also depend a lot on the proportions of an individual's trunk and limbs. Those with compact limbs and trunk can master head stand more easily than those with lankier limbs and trunk. Nevertheless there are some systematic steps to getting into a headstand. In this blog you will learn those exact steps to practice and hold the headstand for longer.
Posture type: Inversion
Ideal for: Strength
Pose Level: Advance
History of the Headstand
The headstand has been a staple asana of hatha yogis for over 500 years. The origins of the headstand is actually much older than 500 years and comes from other ascetic traditions such as practicing austerity (tapas). Inverting oneself, either hanging down from a tree or supporting the whole body on the head for hours at a time under the burning sun has been practiced by Hatha yoga to endure the pain, increase one’s tolerance levels and push the human limits. One of the more recent Hatha texts calls this the Asana Tapakara asana, indicating its ascetic origins. One variation of this is also called Kapaali Asanas - forehead stands to be precise.
How can you prepare for the Headstand?
1. Good core strength - asanas such as the Boat Pose, Plank Pose, and the warrior series are all immensely beneficial for core strength.
2. Strong upper body strength - Improving the strength of the upper body with asanas like Cow-face pose, Puppy Pose, Dolphin Pose, Plank and Low Plank, etc. are helpful.
3. Flexible hip, shoulder joints and thoracic spine - Flexibility in these regions is important for the headstand. This can be achieved with asanas like Pigeon pose , Camel Pose, Low Lunge and High Lunge, etc.
How to practice the Headstand?
Getting into the posture
1. Sit in vajrasana, and place the forearms down and interlock the fingers
2. Now place the crown of the head between the interlocked fingers on the mat and wrap the hands around the head. Make sure the elbows are shoulder width apart and pressing down.
3. Lift the knees and buttocks, and start to straighten the legs.
4. Walk the feet as close as possible and straighten the back. Transfer the weight towards the shoulders and crown of the head, and feel light on your legs
5. Bending the knees slightly, bring one knee to the chest. Tighten your abdominal muscles, hold the breath and then bring the other leg close to the chest
6. Stay with knees close to the chest for a few breaths
7. Once stable, straighten both the legs up towards the ceiling
Getting out of the posture
- Bend the knees and slowly bring them towards the chest
- Now lower the legs with control and place the feet on the mat
- Rest in child’s pose (Balasana).
What are the key benefits of Headstand?
Many recent studies show that inversions like headstand help in improving the blood flow and reducing the pressure in abdominal cavity, hips and legs, relieving them of the constant physical stressors they undergo due to the upright position of the body. The reversed force of gravity on the body helps in reversing the sagging of skin and organs. Sirsasana also helps keep the nervous system active and young as this is an unusual body position for the nervous system to handle. No wonder the headstand is often called the best ‘anti-ageing’ asana!
What are the contraindications of Headstand?
One should avoid the asana if they are suffering from conditions like spondylitis, slip disc, glaucoma or back pain. Attempt the asana only after complete strength and flexibility is achieved in the body.
Counter poses of Headstand
It is important to practice counter poses after doing the headstand.
- It is helpful to come into Child’s Pose (Balasana). Rest for a couple of minutes before you can lift your head up.
- Soon after, practice Standing Forward fold (Uttanasana), fold and samasthiti, upright neutral position, to get back on the feet. Spend a couple of deep breaths and notice the difference in the standing posture. You may find that you feel taller and your spine feels more liberated. You might also feel lighter in the hips and pelvic region. The blood rush to the head starts to slowly return back to normal.
Variations of Headstand
- As a beginner, you can practice Half headstand pose (Bhumi Pada Maskatasana), where the legs remain on the mat.
- You can attempt Head stand pose lotus legs (Padma sirsasana).
Can you practice Headstand against a wall?
It is best to avoid using a wall to rest your legs in a headstand. Falling out of the posture is common in headstands in the early days but learning to fall off correctly without injuries is a skill to develop alongside developing the strength to stay in the posture. The wall doesn’t help pick up this skill. A wall support can be used only after your headstand has become stable and on days you are tired and wouldn’t want to use a lot of effort in holding the posture. Headstand is one asana that is best to learn by practicing in the physical presence of the teacher before you start practicing by yourself.
Advice for Beginners
As a beginner, you can keep the hips slightly flexed, rather than fully straight or extended backwards so as to be able to access your abdominal wall at all times. This is a huge help in maintaining safety in the Asana. Engaging the abdominal muscles is how we take back control when the legs are wavering front and back.
Practice tips for the headstand
1. Remove spectacles / avoid practicing with contact lenses on
2. Tuck in your t-shirt before starting the practice - you can easily get distracted due to the clothes.
3. Use a firm and mildly soft mat for the practice. You can also fold the mat if it’s not thick enough. Never practice without a mat or a blanket.
4. Do not practice close to furniture, especially behind the body in the final posture.
1. While learning the asana it's best to practice while you still have energy and not at the end of class when the energy levels are depleted. Once stable in the practice, headstand is usually practiced at the end of the asanas practice and just before sitting down for pranayama or meditation.
2. Holding time: start by holding the Asana for 10 breaths and eventually increase the counts in multiples of 5.
3. Keep the eyes open at all times and try to focus on an object to maintain balance.
4. Breath through the nostrils all along
5. Do not talk or make an attempt to swallow the saliva during the practice.