Headstand in yoga: Why it's healthy for you and how you learn it

Headstand in yoga: Why it's healthy for you and how you learn it

The headstand is considered the king of yoga - it radiates strength, calm and presence in a majestic way. We need exactly these qualities in order to be able to carry it out safely and this is exactly the effect it has on us. Even the ancient yoga scriptures say that we should regularly practice inversion postures such as headstand in order to develop a strong body and a clear mind.

Even if the headstand is not necessarily part of a classic yoga class these days, for many yogis it is considered a milestone on their yoga path.

The importance of headstand in yoga

Today we have countless different asanas, but it wasn't always like this. In the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, one of the most important yoga texts, 84 main asanas were listed. This also includes the headstand, Sirsasana.

What is the significance of the headstand in yoga?

The headstand belongs to the group of inversion postures, i.e. all those positions in which the heart is higher than the head. Many of these postures are very demanding and can therefore only be found in advanced lessons.

The headstand requires very good body control, strength and balance. Mentally it is at least as demanding, because balancing your entire body weight on your head requires a high degree of concentration and courage.

Energetically, the headstand is assigned to the 6th and 7th chakras. The forehead chakra or Ajna chakra is located at the level of the third eye and represents mental clarity and intuition. The crown chakra or Sahasrara chakra is located on or just above the crown of our head and represents the spiritual connection to our higher self and the divine.

By practicing headstand we can cultivate many qualities that not only serve us in yoga, but of course also in our everyday lives.

How does headstand affect the body and mind?

The headstand is said to have a rejuvenating effect. The yoga scriptures even say that if practitioners remain in an inversion position for several hours a day, the aging process will be stopped. How realistic this actually is remains to be seen. What is certain, however, is that the reversal allows blood to flow from the lower body back to the heart using gravity. This has a positive effect on the blood circulation in the head and the nervous system.

Physical effect:

  • Improves concentration
  • Strengthens the back, shoulder and neck muscles
  • Increases blood supply to the spine, carotid artery and brain
  • Promotes balance & equilibrium
  • Can help with varicose veins , renal colic and constipation
  • Relieves the lumbar spine

Mental effect:

  • Stimulates creative thinking
  • Promotes concentration
  • Brings clarity, focus and presence
  • Promotes courage and self-confidence

Energetic effect:

  • Activates the forehead and crown chakras (Ajna and Sahasrara Chakra)
  • Gets the energy of Apana Vayu flowing, improving sexual energy and creative life force

Learning to stand on your head: How to do it correctly

The headstand is undoubtedly one of the most demanding asanas and should always be practiced very consciously and in a controlled manner. While children can playfully hop into a headstand and experiment with this posture without any worries, this is not recommended for adults. In contrast to children, our bones and ligaments are no longer as elastic and are therefore more susceptible to injury.

Depending on the variant, a headstand puts considerable pressure on the cervical spine, in whose spinal canal many nerve tracts run. To prevent vertebral displacements or herniated discs in this area, we need strong neck muscles to support and stabilize us in headstand.

Is a headstand challenging?

Especially for people who didn't learn how to do a headstand as a child, it is a very challenging pose that requires a lot of practice. In order to carry and balance the entire body weight on the head and shoulder girdle, we need strong shoulder and neck muscles, a stable core and good coordination. There is also the mental component and therefore the fear of falling over. For many people, this is actually the greater challenge and this fear often holds us back for a long time, even if we were physically able to do a headstand.

Are there any aids for a headstand?

In order to learn how to do a headstand and, above all, to develop a feeling of security in this asana, it makes sense to work with various aids. One tool we all have at home is a wall. The wall gives us a secure support that can take away a lot of the fear of falling over.

A yoga block can also be helpful to place your feet on. This makes it easier to raise the pelvis higher, which means we can get into a headstand better. A belt placed in a sling around the upper arms can prevent the elbows from slipping apart and thereby gives our foundation more stability.

Yoga equipment to support headstands

There is also the so-called feet-up trainer, a type of stool with a bulge for the head, with which people with a sensitive cervical spine or neck problems can practice headstands and other inverted postures. The advantage here is that there is no weight on the head, as the shoulders are placed on the top of the stool, while the hands find good support on the legs.

Who is a headstand not suitable for?

The headstand comes with a whole range of contraindications that should definitely be taken into account. If one or more of the following conditions apply to you, you should not practice headstands or, after consulting a doctor, at least only practice the variant with the feet-up trainer:

  • Cervical spine injuries (e.g. herniated disc)
  • Neck problems (or weak neck muscles)
  • Intraocular pressure
  • Retinal detachment and other eye diseases
  • Headache
  • Heart disease
  • high blood pressure
  • arteriosclerosis
  • pregnancy

In addition, it is generally not recommended to practice inversion postures during menstruation. If it makes you feel good, there's certainly nothing wrong with raising your pelvis over your head for a brief moment during this time. However, be aware that you are stopping the natural blood flow in this position and therefore only stay in this position for a short time.

How do I do a headstand?

These instructions will guide you step by step into headstand. The most important thing here is that you take your time and be patient with yourself. Try not to force anything and accept the limits of your body. Have faith that with time and regular practice you will master this royal asana.

Step 1: Warm Up

Before you practice such a demanding posture, you should always be sufficiently warmed up.

  • Practice a few rounds of sun salutations to warm your body overall.
  • Then do more specific exercises to mobilize your spine and shoulder-neck area, e.g. cat-cow, Sufi circles, eagle arms, standing side stretch, shoulder circles, dynamic seated rotation, forearm support.
  • If you are still a yoga beginner or are simply unsure whether your neck and shoulder muscles are strong enough, just practice the following strengthening and preparatory exercises before you really dare to do a headstand.

    • The dolphin is one of the best exercises for strengthening the shoulder and neck muscles and preparing for headstand. From a four-footed position, place your forearms parallel, then point your toes and push your pelvis back and up like downward dog. To build strength, push your shoulders forward as you inhale (and if necessary, tap your nose to the floor), and push yourself back again as you exhale. If you can do ten clean repetitions in a row, you should have built up enough shoulder strength to do a headstand.
    • To strengthen the neck and build core stability at the same time, all abdominal exercises in a supine position with the head raised are suitable, such as half boat (Ardha Navasana), side crunches or lifting the arms and legs towards the ceiling.

    The dolphin

    Step 2: Position arms

    There are different versions for the arms.

    • Variation 1 : Interlace your fingers and form a right angle with your forearms, with your elbows shoulder-width apart (grab the opposite elbows with your hands to measure the distance). Pay particular attention here that your elbows do not slip to the sides as you carry out the further steps.
    • Variant 2 : For the tripod headstand, place both hands flat and shoulder-width apart or even wider. The forearms should be aligned vertically over the wrists.

    Hand positions for headstands

    Step 3: Put your head down correctly

    Take your time to first find the point where you rest your head on the floor. This depends on the shape of your head. To find the point, place one hand flat on the crown of your head and press down firmly until you feel your neck and throat muscles activate. Repeat the same thing, sometimes placing your hand a little further forward, sometimes a little more back. The optimal point for you is where it feels most comfortable and the muscles in your neck and throat work evenly.

    • Variant 1 : Place exactly this point on the floor and push the back of your head into your clasped hands as if you wanted to lean there.
    • Variant 2 : Place this exact point on the floor a little in front of your hands so that your head and your hands form a triangle if you connected them with lines.

    Step 4: Position your feet and bring your pelvis over your shoulders

    Now point your toes like a dolphin and lift your pelvis.

    The more flexible the backs of your legs and your back are, the easier it will be to find the ideal starting position in which your head, shoulders and pelvis are already vertically above one another.

    To do this (in both versions), walk your feet as close to you as possible. If necessary, use a block under your feet if your mobility is not yet sufficient.

    Step 5: Activate Core

    Before you lift one foot off the floor, activate your abdominal muscles.

    First, press firmly into the floor with your hands or forearms and pull both shoulder blades towards each other on your back to stabilize. Tense your stomach and especially pull your belly button inwards towards your spine.

    Maintain this body tension as you continue walking.

    • Variant 1: As a further preliminary exercise, press yourself firmly out of your shoulders a few times. As your forearms press into the ground, you can lift your head slightly off the ground. In this way, you practice holding your headstand with more support from your arms and shoulders and only putting a small amount of weight (approx. 20%) on your head to relieve the strain on your neck.

    Step 6: Shift weight and find balance

    Now shift your weight forward until one foot seems to lift off the ground on its own. Pull your heel towards your buttocks. Then place your foot back on the floor and do the same with the other foot. Practice this a few times on each side.

    If you don't feel like your feet are going to take off on their own yet, stick with this variation to gain the strength, flexibility, and body control you need to keep walking safely. Please do not jump into a headstand, as you can seriously injure your cervical spine.

    Step 7: Raise and stretch your legs

    When you feel confident and stable, slowly pull one heel at a time toward your butt. You can stay here for a few breaths and check your stable foundation.

    If necessary, slowly lift both knees with your legs bent towards the ceiling and begin to stretch your legs out further from there. The more stretched your legs are, the more challenging it becomes to keep your balance.

    In any case, save enough strength to be able to lower your legs again slowly and in a controlled manner.

    Step 8: Balancing posture

    When you come out of an inverted position, you should not immediately stand up again, otherwise you may become dizzy.

    Give the blood time to flow from the head back to the legs by resting in Child's Pose for 5-10 breaths or stretching your neck and upper back in Bunny.