If you’ve been practicing yoga for a while now, you may be looking to challenge yourself with a more advanced asana. For many yogis, the headstand is one of the first “hard poses” they want to master. It’s fun to practice, is a great way to build strength, and comes with a super rewarding feeling when you nail it.
Headstand is a foundational inversion that helps you get used to being upside down and finding balance there. Once you can skillfully master a headstand, you can start to work towards the more challenging inverted positions like the forearm stand and handstand.
So if you’re ready to take your practice to the next level, read on to learn how to prepare your body, the proper alignment, and our top tips for inversion mastery.
How To Prepare For Headstand
Like with all intermediate and advanced postures, it’s imperative to warm up your body before attempting a headstand. If not, there is a significant risk of hurting yourself.
To master your headstand, do preparatory postures focusing on the upper body and core, as these areas require continuous engagement. Plus, stretching and opening the hamstrings is vital to help you stack your hips over your shoulders.
Here are some asanas we recommend doing as your headstand warm-up sequence:
- Neck stretches and neck rolls
- Standing Forward Fold
- Downward Dog to Plank flow
- Forearm Plank
- Boat Pose
- Reclined leg lowers
There are two headstands in yoga: the supported headstand and the tripod headstand. In this article, we’re giving the alignment for the supported headstand as it puts less pressure on your neck than Tripod.
A supported headstand involves interlacing your hands behind your head and pressing your forearms into the ground to balance the weight between your head and upper body.
Set up your base
- From kneeling, lean forward and bring your elbows to the mat. Take hold of opposite elbows to ensure your elbows are shoulder-width apart. You can use a strap to find and maintain elbow alignment, like in this video.
- Without moving your elbows, interlace your hands with your palms towards you and pinky fingers touching the mat. Instead of stacking your pinky fingers, tuck one of them in.
- Tuck your head into your interlaced hands. The crown of the head should be on the mat, and the back of the head resting against the hands as they gently cup it like a small basket.
Stabilize your shoulders
- Start to bring weight into the upper body by actively pressing the forearms into the ground like you are trying to push the floor away.
- As you do this, draw your upper arms towards your shoulder sockets.
- Hug your elbows towards each other as you gently broaden your chest.
Align your hips over your shoulders
- Keep your shoulders stabilized as you tuck your toes and lift your knees off the floor, straightening your legs and sending your hips upwards.
- Walk your feet towards your body until your hips are stacked over your shoulders.
- Continue to keep pressing your forearms down. You should feel more weight in your arms than your head. Ideally, 80 percent of the weight in your arms and 20 percent or less in your head.
- Draw your belly in to engage your core and walk your feet further towards you so that you lean the weight of your hips slightly past your shoulders. This will help your legs become lighter so that you can lift up.
- Don’t kick up. Instead, bend one knee, drawing the heel to the buttocks.
- Come up onto the toes of the other foot and slowly bend that knee, so both feet are off the ground.
- Take a moment to stabilize your body. Then with an engaged core, slowly straighten both legs up to the sky, stacking your feet over your pelvis.
- Hold for as long as you can (aim for 5 to 10 breaths), then with an engaged core, lower the legs down.
For a visual and more in-depth explanation, check out our video on how to do the headstand safely.
Tips to Master your Headstand
1. Use the wall for support
One of the biggest mental blocks people have with headstands is the fear of falling or moving forward.
I totally get it, as I also had that worry when I first started practicing inversions. This is why you should make friends with the wall when learning to master headstands. That way, you can practice without fearing falling and hurting yourself.
The wall offers support to help you find your balance and increase awareness of your body in space while upside down. As you figure out the correct alignment and weight distribution, you’ll start to hold the headstand for longer and longer. At this point, you’ll feel much more confident and can move away from the wall.
To use wall support:
- Bring your mat (lengthways) to the wall and set up your base. Make sure you’re facing the right way – when you come up, your belly and chest should be facing the wall.
- Once you set up your base, find the right distance between your head and the wall by lifting your hips (like in Dolphin). Your heels should be against the wall.
- Walk your feet up the wall to a 90-degree angle, with your hips directly over your head.
- Engage your core and slowly extend one leg up to the ceiling.
- If you have balance and stability, slowly float the other leg up, bringing the feet together.
2. Build your core strength
You may assume that upper body strength is most important for inversions, but building strength in the core is just as vital, if not more.
Strong engagement of the abdominal muscles is what will help you come up slowly and steadily without kicking. It will also allow you to find balance, maintain the pose, and release down in a controlled way. Moreover, as the core is connected to the pelvic and shoulder girdles, strengthening the abs will help stabilize these joints.
So I highly recommend bringing extra focus to core work when learning to master headstands. Incorporate a mix of boat pose, reclined leg lifts, scissor kicks, plank with single leg lifts, and side plank.
3. Invest in an inversion workshop or course
We strongly recommend taking a course on inversions before giving them a go at home. This will help you understand the correct alignment from the get-go, significantly reducing the chance of injury and preventing bad posture habits for all inversions.
The PlayPauseBe Upside Down in 30 days online course is designed to give you the confidence, knowledge, and skills needed to begin your inversion journey. Here we share our proven step-by-step method of mastering headstands safely and in a short time.
What’s more, Upside Down in 30 days is a comprehensive 2-in-1 program. So once you complete the 27 in-depth headstand lessons, you’ll get access to the 38-lesson course on handstands to advance even further along your yoga journey.
We recommend opting for a course rather than an inversion workshop. Workshops can be great but they have their limits; you cannot properly master headstand in one afternoon if you’re a total beginner. Instead, it requires much more effort, and most importantly, a routine – which is what we help to build inside the ‘Upside Down in 30 days’ course.
4. Practice it every day
After taking an intensive course or workshop on headstands, it’s essential to maintain a regular practice. At first, doing a headstand feels unnatural and difficult because we are not used to turning our bodies upside down and balancing in an inverted position.
However, if you do it daily in your self-practice, you’ll quickly become more comfortable. Eventually, it will feel like second nature!