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

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

The headstand is considered the king of yoga exercises - it radiates power, calmness and presence in a majestic way. We need exactly these qualities in order to be able to carry it out safely and it has exactly this effect on us. The ancient yoga scriptures already say that we should regularly practice inverted poses such as the 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 that. 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 importance of headstand in yoga?

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

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

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

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

How does headstand affect the body and mind?

The headstand is said to have a rejuvenating effect. The yoga scriptures even state that if practitioners remain in an inverted posture for several hours a day, the aging process will be halted. It remains to be seen how realistic this actually is. What is certain, however, is that by reversing the blood flow from the lower body back to the heart occurs with 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
  • 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 brow and crown chakra (Ajna and Sahasrara chakra)
  • Makes the energy of Apana Vayu flow, enhancing sexual energy and creative life force

Learn headstand: How to do it right

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 headstands and feel free to experiment with this pose, this is not recommended for adults. In contrast to children, our bones and ligaments are no longer as elastic and therefore more susceptible to injury.

Depending on the variant, the headstand exerts considerable pressure on the cervical spine, in the spinal canal of which many nerve tracts run. In order to avoid vertebral displacements or herniated discs in this area, we need strong neck muscles that support and stabilize us when we are on our heads.

Is a headstand challenging?

Especially for people who didn't learn the 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. In addition, there is the mental component and thus the fear of falling over. For many people, this is even the greater challenge and often this fear holds us back for a long time, even if we were already physically able to do the headstand.

Are there any tools for a headstand?

In order to learn the 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 most of the fear of falling.

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

Yoga equipment to support headstand

There is also the so-called feet-up trainer, a kind of stool with a bulge for the head, which people with a sensitive cervical spine or neck problems can use to practice headstand 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.

For whom is a headstand not suitable?

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

  • Injuries to the cervical spine (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 inverted postures during menstruation. If you feel good about it, there is certainly nothing wrong with bringing your pelvis over your head for a short moment during this time. But be aware that in this position you are stopping the natural flow of blood and therefore only stay in such a position for a short time.

How do I do a headstand?

This guide will take you step-by-step into the headstand. The most important thing here is that you take your time and be patient with yourself. Don't try to force anything and accept your body's limitations. Have faith that with time and regular practice you will master this king asana.

Step 1: Warm-Up

Before you practice such a challenging pose, you should always be sufficiently warmed up.

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

    • The dolphin is one of the best exercises to strengthen the shoulder and neck muscles and to prepare for the headstand. From the all fours position, place your forearms parallel, then point your toes up and push your pelvis back and up like downward-facing dog. To build strength, push your shoulders forward as you breathe in (and tap your nose toward the floor if you like), and push back as you breathe out. If you can do ten clean reps in a row, you should have built up enough strength in your shoulders to do the headstand.
    • To strengthen your neck while building core stability, you can do any supine abdominal exercise with your head elevated, such as half boat (Ardha Navasana), side crunches, or raising your arms and legs toward the ceiling.

    The Dolphin

    Step 2: Position the arms

    There are different variants for the arms.

    • Variant 1: Interlace your fingers and form a right angle with your forearms with your elbows shoulder-width apart (grab your hands around opposite elbows to measure the distance). Pay special attention here that your elbows do not slide apart to the sides while 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.

    Headstand hand positions

    Step 3: Place the head correctly

    Take your time to first find the spot where you will rest your head on the ground. This depends on the shape of the 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 engage. Repeat the same thing, sometimes putting your hand a little further forward, sometimes a little more back. The best point for you is where it feels most comfortable and where the muscles in your neck and neck work evenly.

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

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

    Now, like in the dolphin, point your toes up and raise your pelvis.

    The more flexible your back 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 vertical.

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

    Step 5: Activate Core

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

    First, press your hands or forearms firmly into the floor and pull both shoulder blades together on your back to stabilize. Tighten your stomach and especially pull your navel in towards your spine.

    Hold this body tension as you walk.

    • Variant 1: As a further preliminary exercise, push yourself out of your shoulders a few times. As your forearms press into the floor, you can lift your head off the floor a little. This is how you practice keeping the headstand supported by your arms and shoulders and only putting a little weight (about 20%) on your head to relieve your neck.

    Step 6: Shift weight and find balance

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

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

    Step 7: Raise and straighten your legs

    When you feel secure and stable, slowly pull one heel at a time to your bottom. Here you can stay for a few breaths and check your stable foundation.

    if necessary. then slowly raise both knees towards the ceiling with your knees bent and start stretching your legs further from there. The more stretched your legs are, the more challenging it is to keep your balance.

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

    Step 8: Balance posture

    When you come out of an inverted pose, do not straighten up immediately or you may become dizzy.

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