For beginner and more experienced yogis alike, a headstand can seem both fun and intimidating. But don’t let your fears keep you from the thrill of inverting and balancing on your head.
“Headstands require a change of orientation, and that’s scary for people when it’s new,” says yoga instructor Lauren Taus. “But a little discomfort can be a good thing, so embrace it.”
With Taus’ guide below, over time you will become familiar having your head below your heart and bearing some weight on your head. As you do each pose, be sure your joints are stacked and aligned. This will give you a solid headstand foundation.
Lastly, be willing to fall. “I’ve never seen anyone get hurt practicing headstand,” Taus says. “Maybe a momentary ego bruise after a cute somersault, but that’s about it.” So go for it!
YOUR HEADSTAND TRAINING PROGRAM
Start with the first pose. Practice each pose daily, building up to longer holds. Be sure to keep breathing as you hold. When you feel comfortable doing downward facing dog, move on to the next pose. Continue doing this, and soon you’ll be flying:
1. DOWNWARD FACING DOG
Come onto all fours with your wrists directly under your shoulders and your knees directly under your hips. Tuck your toes under and lift your hips. Press your chest back toward your legs and drop your heels down while you engage your quads. Find stillness and hold.
From downward facing dog, lower your arms to your forearms, keeping them parallel. Press your chest back toward your legs and drop your heels down while you engage your quads. Hold, or explore lifting one leg, then the other.
3. TRIPOD HEADSTAND WITH BENT KNEES
Sit with your butt on your heels. Place your hands by the outside edges of your knees so that the the tops of your knees create a straight line with the back edge of your wrists. Keep your butt and hands where they are, bring the crown of your head onto the ground. Lift your hips, curl your toes under, and straighten your legs. Your upper arms will be parallel with one another, and your wrists will align under your elbows. Your hands and the top of your head will create an equilateral triangle. Bring one knee to the shelf of your upper arm. If that feels good, try to bring your other knee to your opposite arm. Bring your toes together and hold. Or you can practice bringing one knee at a time to your arm.
4. TRIPOD HEADSTAND HOVER
Rather than bending your legs, walk your feet in toward your hands and see if you can hover your toes off the ground for a few seconds.
5. TRIPOD HEADSTAND WITH LEG LIFT
Walk your feet in toward your hands and practice lifting one leg at a time toward the ceiling and holding.
6. TRIPOD HEADSTAND
You can either:
- Bend your knees as in the third step above.
- Bring your toes together and hold.
- When you feel ready, explore extending one leg at a time toward the ceiling.
- Walk your feet in toward your hands. Either lift one leg at a time or try lifting both legs at the same time straight up into the air.
It’s great to practice headstand the first time with a teacher spotting you. If that’s not possible, you may want to practice near a wall. “Just don’t get too comfortable with it. You don’t want it to become your crutch,” Taus says. “Ultimately, you’re going to have to face your fears and fly.”
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OTHER EXERCISES THAT CAN HELP
“Developing upper-body and core strength will help support your body’s weight when your legs are over your head in the air,” Taus explains. She recommends doing the following poses to build up that strength.
Come to the top of a pushup with your shoulders right above your wrists. Actively press the ground away. This builds straight arm scapular strength and helps with all of your arm balances. Keep the back of your neck long, and draw your low ribs in toward the back. Work up to holding for 1 minute. Do this 5–6 times a week.
From plank, lower halfway down toward the floor, keeping your upper arms close to your sides, until your elbows are at a 90-degree angle. (Your elbow will align above your wrist.) Press back up to plank. Start with 8–10 chaturanga pushups and work up to 20. Do this every day.
Sit on the floor with your knees bent. Keep your chest lifted, lean back slightly and lift your legs to tabletop so your shins are parallel to the ground. Hold there, or try to extend your legs. You can hold your outer thighs at first, but work up to extending your legs and arms in front of you.Hold for 1 minute. Do 1–3 reps 5–6 times a week.
Stand with your feet about a mat-width apart. Squat into a low squat or malasana pose. Place your hands on the ground in front of you, shoulder-width apart, with your index fingers pointing forward. Keeping a soft bend in the elbows, lift your hips, and then try to bring one knee at a time onto the “shelf” of your upper arm. Looking forward will help a lot; grip the ground like crazy. Hold for as long as you wish, adding time as you gain strength. Do this daily.
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