If you’ve ever wanted to do a headstand, now’s your chance. Headstands can offer a host of incredible health benefits beyond simply looking cool and making us feel powerful. Follow our step-by-step beginner’s guide to get started.
Ever dreamt of mastering a headstand as your sweaty yoga class comes to an end? A playful yet bold pose, finally managing to balance your legs over your head while your body continues to defy gravity can be totally electrifying.
That being said, headstands are not to be rushed into by any means. You need to build up a certain level of strength, awareness and technique in order to get yourself into the air without incurring any harm or injury.
You may also like
Stretching: 6 of the best yoga videos and apps to use at home
Since completing my 200-hour teacher training in India and spending years teaching, practising and studying, I’ve learned that there are many incredible benefits to practising headstands that nurture the mind, body and soul.
I’ll admit that I still get nervous at the thought of attempting a headstand in class. My advice? Forget about every other set of eyes you think are watching (because they’re nearly always focusing on their own practice) and tune into your internal body.
If a headstand feels appealing and your internal body is saying “this could be good for me,” then I highly recommend giving it a go. If you practice with caution and awareness, I guarantee that you’ll fall head over heels for what many refer to as “the king of asanas” – salamba shirshasana (headstand).
“Headstands can be immensely beneficial for our circulation and the state of our mind,” explains Dr Neelam Sagwan, assistant professor at Shekhawati Ayurved College in Pilani, India.
“The inverted position of the body alters the anatomy and physiology of the body at various levels. This full inversion returns blood to the heart and the brain, refreshing the cardiovascular and lymphatic system, and providing energising effects for the whole body.”
Headstand for the mind
Looking for confidence? It doesn’t matter if it takes you months or even years; when you work to achieve something like mastering a headstand, it builds confidence within and instills the belief that you can overcome any challenge that comes your way.
“Headstands can assist in enhancing mental clarity as well as your confidence and spirit,” says Tye Fielding, 500 E-RYT (500-hour experienced registered yoga teacher) and senior yoga manager at Talalla Yoga Retreat, Sri Lanka.
“However, if there is a physical barrier that is limiting you, do not fret. The modest standing forward fold and downward dog can also assist the many benefits of a headstand.”
Renowned yoga masters like B.K.S. Iyengar believe that inversions help the body to release impurities. Whether that sounds far-fetched or not, many of us have experienced the increased inner strength, calmness and clarity of the mind that seems to come from going upside down.
The theory goes that clearing the adrenal glands is also said to help stimulate the release of neurotransmitters and endorphins, prompting an exhilarating feeling throughout your body – but the scientific studies are lacking for us to say that’s the case with headstands. Head rush or not, I feel pretty good on coming back down to earth.
Headstand for the body
Did you know that stress can impact your hair health? Inversions help to increase the blood flow to the 100,000 follicles on your head, which may culminate in strengthening hair growth. There are also those who believe that by reversing gravity, fresh nutrients and oxygen are flushed to the face, which stimulates the facial capillaries and muscles.
Desi Bartlett, certified personal trainer and yoga teacher in Los Angeles, tells Stylist: “Inversions help bring fresh oxygenated blood to the head, including our scalp and facial skin. It’s sort of like giving your face and hair a natural oxygen boost.”
And then we have the inner benefits, such as those to digestive health and the lymphatic system. Headstands enhance the blood flow to your digestive organs and increase the efficiency of nutrient absorption and digestion. They’re also said to stimulate the pituitary organ, which regulates digestion.
There are studies that claim headstands can lower blood pressure too. In 1926, an Indian scientist found that headstands prompted the blood pressure readings in 11 healthy adults to drop; 42 years later, researcher Rao Shankar did another load of tests on men who he made headstand, and he found that heart rate was lower in headstanding than standing. That wasn’t all. He found that the subjects were better able to use oxygen when upside down compared with standing or lying, and that their respiratory capacity was increased.
Beginner’s guide to nailing your first headstand
Headstands are not for everyone, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. If you have degenerative disc issues, structural imbalances in your back, shoulders or neck, are pregnant, suffer with glaucoma, migraines or high blood pressure, then focusing on alternative poses will be just as beneficial to your overall practice. If you’re unsure, talk with your teacher before diving into the pose.
Saying that, don’t allow the fact that you’ve never managed to get into a headstand before to put you off – it’s never too late to learn. In fact, the world record headstand belongs to a 71-year-old woman who completed her goal of performing a headstand in every one of the 50 states of America.
Here are two simple steps to begin your Shirshasana journey while remaining safe and cautious:
Above anything else, believe in yourself. When fear or doubt creeps in, that’s when we’re at our most vulnerable so take a breath, find your grounding and take it at your own pace.
Position your mat correctly. Whether your mat is aligned against the wall or by placing a few cushions either side to catch your fall, practising your headstand with surrounding support will help you tune in to the areas of your body that require the most strength to hold the pose.
Now, onto the headstands:
- Come into your tabletop position.
- Bend to bring your elbows to rest down on the mat. Your elbows should remain on the mat, shoulder-width distance apart. Interlace your fingers and firmly clasp them around your head.
- Tuck your chin in, extend your thumbs toward the ceiling and rest the crown of your head on the mat. Important note: change your head positioning as much as possible until you find a placement that feels right for you. Remember to keep your hands supporting the back of your head at all times to avoid straining your neck.
- Extend your legs and lift your buttocks to the air, almost like your body is making a ‘V’ shape. Walk your legs slowly up the mat so your hips lift high and you align your hips with your spine. Doing this will also prompt your shoulders to lift over your ears.
- Engage your core by pulling your belly button into your spine, and keep your wrists, hands, forearms and elbows strong – almost like they are glued to the mat.
- Rise onto your tippy-toes (if you haven’t already) and lift one knee into the chest. If this feels balanced and strong, lift the second knee into your chest. Find your balance and breathe here for a moment.
- Use your core to slowly raise your knees over your head, and then extend your legs straight up. Again, taking it at your own pace. Maybe you just get used to having bent knees to your chest for now until your upper body and core are strong enough to lift you higher.
- Once your legs are extended, imagine your upper body and crown grounding into the mat, while your legs are pointing towards the sky. You may begin to shimmy and shake about, but don’t panic. Breathe, stay focused, and channel that inner warrior you know is inside of you.
- To release, slowly bend your knees knowing that you have the option to take them one at a time, and bring both legs down to a tucked position in front of your chest.
- Take child’s pose to allow your body to adjust back to its natural blood flow. You may want to do some neck rolls to relieve any tension in your neck and shoulders.
For those of you curious about learning how to headstand, it’s important to weigh up what your desires are and why there may be hesitations. I personally love headstands and inversions of all kinds, but just remember to always put your health first without judgment. We practise yoga for ourselves; not to perform or for ‘likes’ on Instagram, but to discover a deeper connection within.
Looking to develop more upper body strength to support your headstand? Check out our collection of workout videos on the Strong Women Training Club.