There's no doubt about it; being able to do Sirsasana (Yoga Headstand) is cool.
What is not so cool, however, is not being able to do one at first (that's how we all started) and getting frustrated or even end up hurting yourself. Let's take this slowly. You don't need to get into a headstand. If it scares you in any way, there is no need to do it. Other inversions such as shoulder stand or legs up the wall do the job just as well. (Read about exactly what "job" inversions do here.) But if you would love to be able to do it and have no idea where to start, here are some of the best tips we have tried.
From Child's Pose, place your elbows shoulder-width apart on the mat and put your arms horizontally out in front of you with either hand touching the opposite elbow.
Starting your headstand in Child's Pose
Measure your arms, hands to elbows to set up your headstand foundation
Many people put too much emphasis on their head and do not realise that the arms help create a sense of balance and foundation before the lift up. Without moving the elbows from their position, shift the hands upwards till they meet and clasp them together making a nice little bed for your head.
Keep elbows stuck on the mat, shift hands upwards till they meet and clasp them together
There are differing views on whether the little finger should be tucked into the clasped hands.
Clasp hands together making a nice little bed for your head - little finger tucked in recommended but not imperative
Most yoga teachers advise this to avoid the little finger getting in the way or even getting squashed when you are upside down. If you find that your little finger is not in the way and does not bother you, feel free to position it wherever is comfortable for you.
Place your head into the clasped hands. Make sure that there isn't a lot of pressure on the head by pushing up from the shoulders. The weight needs to be on your arms. To check this, see if you can slowly turn your head slightly from side to side.
Place your head into the clasped hands
Straighten your legs just as you would do in downward dog or dolphin pose and start to walk the feet in towards the head with small steps. It is imperative to be warm when attempting headstand because the hamstrings need to be stretched otherwise this point will prove difficult.
Straighten your legs just as in downward dog or dolphin pose
Start to walk the feet in towards the head with small steps
Walk the feet in till the upper body is completely vertical. However, make sure you do not look at a mirror while having the weight of your head up-side-down as you may injure yourself.
Walk the feet in till the upper body is completely vertical
Once the upper body is able to balance like this, use your core to slowly bend your knees and bring them into the chest, slowly lifting the feet off the floor.
Using the core, slowly lift feet off the floor
Bring the knees into the chest
Slowly start to stretch the legs upwards till you are in an upright position. All the work is done using your core and tightening your abs will make sure the legs stay up.
Option to straighten the legs out in front of you and lift up or raise them up from the bent knees-to-chest position
Lift the legs up slowly using the core at all times to help keep you balanced
Coming out of headstand safely is just as important as getting into it. You want to make sure you don't crash down. Ideally, we want to come down with as much control as we went up. Keeping the core tight and very active, bring the knees back down to the chest and then slowly both feet back onto the ground, and rest back down in Child's pose. If you feel that you are about to come down, bend the knees into the chest and keep the core (abs) tight at all times to keep control. Alternatively, bring one leg down first, knee to chest, and place the foot on the floor, and with control bring the other leg down slowly. If however, you fall the opposite way, the best thing you can do is keep your legs loose, bend the knees, and come down into a bridge position. This may seem scary at first, but it's no scarier than bridge, so don't worry.
(Image via @staceylau)
Practice makes perfect. Keep at it. If this is all still too daunting, we love the following modifications.
(Image via @justbrifree)
Set up your mat against a wall and go through the above step-by-step guide. When you walk your legs in towards the head and your bottom has touched the wall, start to send the legs up putting pressure against the wall if you need to. The wall is there for you to feel safe and for you to get used to being in headstand. As with all props, we use them to lose them. Once you feel confident enough with the wall, do the same but this time a foot away from the wall, then two feet, then three, till you feel that you don't need it anymore. If you want to ease yourself slowly away from the wall, try using blocks as pictured above.
Get a chair and place it at the foot of the mat making sure it's sturdy and won't slip anywhere. Carry out steps 1-4 of the guide above and then, keeping one leg on the floor, lift the other leg onto the chair.
After steps 1-4 of the guide above, lift one leg onto the chair
Even though you have the chair as a prop to help you, still try to lift up the leg using your abs. Then slowly, using the core, lift the other leg onto the chair as well.
Bring both legs onto the chair
You could stay in this position for the whole inversion or you could try to lift the legs up slowly, either together or one by one using your abs. To come down, bring one leg off the chair and then the other, and rest in Child's Pose.
(Image via @emmy_stroberg)
Lifting the legs off the floor and keeping the knees bent without stretching the legs all the way up is another good way to gain confidence. You can even keep the knees stuck to your chest if you so wish. The main thing to remember is that you lift off the floor using the core, the Uddiyana Bandha, or in plain English, the abdomen.
Believe it or not, opening your legs wide whilst walking them in towards your head and lifting them up in an open split (or however far you can split your legs) makes it easier to float up because your legs serve as balancing beams! Try it and see!
(Image via @jennifer.robancho)
This is a good one for beginners to get the feel of a headstand without the fear of falling because you always have your leg on the floor. Alternate between legs to get the hang of having at least one leg up.
We're always being told that we shouldn't jump or hop up into headstand but what if your body just isn't getting there, i.e. if the hamstrings are too tight? If you have perpetual tight shoulders, shorter arms or tight hips, you may struggle to walk close enough to the hips for your spine to be perpendicular to the floor so that your legs start lifting up. Here we found a way to walk the feet closer towards your head despite these limitations to prepare the headstand. For this modification, try to extend your head further above your fists, almost as if you are attempting to kiss the front edge of the mat. If you have a regular practice and know what a yoga push up (Chaturanga Dandasana) is, you can mimic the action of the forward motion and lean as forward as your body allows. Taking a breath in between each step can help relax the hamstrings and allow you to walk further towards the head.
If you struggle to walk close enough to the hips for your spine to be perpendicular to the floor, keep the head over and above the fists at first
Once the head is over and above the fists, it creates a wonderful space for your legs and hips so you can walk a lot closer to the head.
Walk the feet into towards the head as far as they can go
Taking a breath in between each step can help relax the hamstrings allowing you to walk further towards the head
After that, tug the head back into the slot between the fist and the arms.
Once you have walked as far as you can go, you can then tuck the head back into the clasped hands
By doing this, you can feel that your legs are a lot lighter. They may even start lifting up! If you feel that you need to start building the confidence to your first headstand, you can start experimenting against the wall (with your back facing the wall with about 10 inches distance). That way, you can use your bottom or tippy toes to help with your balance while being upside down. In time, these modifications will help condition your upper body, head and arms and set you ready for the lift off!
FeetUp Headstand Stool
We tried the FeetUp once and were converted! It's £99 from Amazon but if you feel that you just can't get into Sirsasana no matter how hard you try, this is sure to get you there! Take a look at the gallery of FeetUp-ers who love it.
Do you have any other headstand tricks you'd like to share with us? Please comment below, or send us photos by tweeting at @lotsofyoga or tag us on instagram (@lots_of_yoga) and we may feature your photos and the link to your social media accounts/websites onto our platforms!