How to do a Headstand Yoga & Its Benefits

Mar/01/2022 / by SEEMA STAFF
Headstand

“What if I should fall right through the center of the earth… oh, and come out the other side, where people walk upside down?” Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

When your world is upside down, it can prove challenging to get things right-side-up, so to speak. Take a headstand for example. It’s a type of yoga pose where you’re inverted and while it looks simple, can take time to master. While it appears easy and you might only imagine all the blood rushing to your head, it actually offers several benefits and is a wonderful energy boost. Hence, a head stand might be the best midday pose for opening your prana and third eye chakra. Here’s why Sirsasana is so popular and may have you standing on your head in no time. 

While about 36 million people practice yoga daily, it’s increased by 50% over the past few years. Hence, more people want to learn about asanas like headstand yoga pose. Referred to as the king of yoga poses, a head stand or Shirshasana is an inverted pose in which you turn the body upside down like you’re doing a cartwheel. 

Standing with your head and arms on the ground and your legs extending to the ceiling can improve your circulation and give a big boost to your immune system. That’s because you’re causing more lymph and white blood cells to flow throughout your body. You’re also lifting up the stomach contents which can actually improve your digestion. 

The challenging posture is a maneuver that can cause fresh oxygen to flow into your chest and heart. A common yoga sutra describes it this way, 

“Through sustained focus and meditation on our patterns, habits, and conditioning, we gain knowledge and understanding of our past and how we can change the patterns that aren’t serving us to live more freely and fully.” 

Meaning, difficult poses can force us to focus and concentrate on opening the chakras and prana. You’re actually able to remove bad energy and negative emotions away when you breathe through techniques like head stand pose. You’re also able to tone the muscles and reduce tightness and stiffness in the muscles and joints. With additional medicinal and healing benefits, you’ll find yourself feeling more energetic, invigorated and filled with an added sense of clarity.

Here’s some insightful information below that can help you explore an inverted pose and why this is the king of asanas. Below you will find the benefits of headstand pose, precautions with Sirsasana pose and how to do headstand. Included are tips on how to safely get into this asana and you’ll find videos, images and other helpful tips in the topics below. That way you can enjoy this asana safely and all the rewards that it provides. Let’s take a look!

Is a Yoga Inversion Bad for You?

Do not attempt this pose if you have pain, an injury or had recent surgery on your neck, back, spine, legs or shoulders. You also don’t want to practice this type of pose if you have high blood pressure, osteoporosis or glaucoma. 

For example, let’s say you had a blood vessel burst in your eye or you have eye floaters or hypertension. You should NOT do any inverted poses. Your pressure when you flip upside down can increase from 100/60 and go up to 150/110 or higher. Hence, it might increase your stroke risk. 

About 72% of yoga practitioners are women but it didn’t start that way. Both men and women started yoga poses as kids and didn’t even realize it. When you were a kid you probably did all kinds of upside-down poses, handstands and cartwheels. That’s because as children our joints are looser and we have a lot of energy. We’re also usually fearless – that is until we land on our heads! 

As you age, you may abandon stretching and shy away from moves that might lead to injuring yourself. Hence, the muscles can become inflexible or tight and some people don’t even stretch, exercise or walk on a daily basis. 

The thought of a head stand is something they may never explore because they don’t think they can balance for that long or they’re afraid they’ll hurt themselves. While injuries can occur, they’re less likely if you have an experienced yoga teacher walking you through this difficult asana.  

The reality is that inverted poses are safe and have been taught and practiced for several thousand years. There are yogis and yoginis of all ages who practice this powerful posture and may include it in their daily yoga routines. Mastering this pose might take time as you need to build muscles for any inverted posture. However, you can increase your endurance, build up your confidence and open the chakras with strengthening poses like handstands and upside down poses. 

Don’t be intimidated by this difficult pose? Watch an inverted pose example here. 

How To Do a Headstand Yoga Shirshasana Pose

Ready to get into an inverted pose? You might not realize it but the word yoga actually comes from the Sanskrit root word Yuj (to join, yoke or unite). Hence, yoga routines can help lead you into a union or universal consciousness and you can strive to achieve that with a head stand and other types of yoga poses. But how can you do a pose like this safely for the first time?

Examples of Shirsasana Poses

When you first start this pose, there are other other poses that you can get into as you become more experienced. One example is a split-leg entry and exit where you bend your legs one at a time. 

Another is the pike-up and pike-down pose where you put both of your legs straight up in the air at the same time. There’s also a curl-up and curl-down entry and exit where you have both of your legs bent together at once. Hence, there are all kinds of examples but let’s start with the basics.

Check out head stand pose Yoga with Adrienne.

Beginner Steps for Head Stand Pose

A few steps can help you safely get into this inverted pose if you’re new to yoga or a beginner. What we recommend though is that you first read through the steps. Then see the videos to show you examples. It’s also important to read the Precautions below before getting into this difficult pose. It won’t help to try to start a new pose by yourself if you have a preexisting condition like a back, neck or shoulder injury that can lead to more pain. You also don’t want to start a pose like this one if you have certain medical conditions or had recent surgery. 

Most inverted poses include a few simple steps to help you get into the pose. 

These are the steps below:

  1. Sit down in a squatting position with your knees on the floor and your hips square with your body. 
  2. Put your arms down on the floor in front of you where your elbows and forearms are about shoulder-width apart. 
  3. Then lock your hands together and create the shape of a letter “V” with your clasped hands. This serves as the base for your pose. 
  4. Next, gently bring the top/center of your head at the crown (not your forehead, not the base of your head) down to the open space in that “V” that you’ve created on the ground. 
  5. Let your head feel the cradling of your clasped hands at the back of your head for support.
  6. Start to bring the weight of your body up as you move your upper body into an upside down position. At the same time dig your elbows and arms into the ground in a firm manner for added support. 
  7. As you lift your body up above you to the sky, use your stomach muscles to help bring your legs up off the floor. Tighten your glutes and stomach muscles continuously. If you feel unsteady, do this up against a wall for firm support so you won’t topple over. You can also put pillows on either side of you for comfort.  
  8. Work on bringing your legs up in a bent manner and when you’re sturdy then straighten out your legs so that you are completely vertical. After flexing and engaging your legs, then straighten them out as you put your weight on your forearms. Try to keep your hips, knees and shoulders in a straight line.  
  9. Avoid turning your head or neck because you have very sensitive muscles in the neck that you don’t want to injure. Hold this pose and engage your arms, stomach muscles and legs while you work on your breathing.

Dos and Don’ts to Help with Head Stand Pose 

Are you practicing an inverted pose for the first time? Trying to do a pose like this on a hard floor and don’t have a thick mat or padding? You may want to use the wall or ask someone to hold your legs with head stand pose. Another tip is you might want to put a pad or blanket under you. A thick folded blanket can cushion your head. Hence, when you put your head down, put it directly onto the blankets or pad and make sure that it won’t shift when you put your weight on your arms.

While some yogis and yoginis never use a wall as a prop because they see it as a distraction. It can help beginners. Aside from overcoming the balancing issues, the wall can help you to confidently invert yourself as you progress with this asana. 

Here are a few other tips that can help: 

  • DON’T lean on the wall but DO use it as support to help you avoid falling over. 
  • DO keep your hands about 3 to 6 inches from the wall but DON’T use a chair as a prop because it can move. 
  • DO carefully place your head near your clasped hands but DON’T turn your head to check your posture in a mirror. Avoid turning your neck and leaning your feet against the wall.
  • DO practice head stand pose on an empty stomach (about 2 to 3 hours before you start). DON’T start this pose without first warming up. DO cushion your head with a thick blanket especially if you’re on a hard surface like a concrete gym floor.
  • DO protect your neck. Try to keep your shoulders up and not near the ears as you don’t want to compress your neck too much. 
  • DON’T let your hips move past the shoulders. Doing so can cause you to fall over. DO practice often to master this asana, strengthen your muscles and build your confidence!
Young woman practicing yoga, standing in salamba sirsasana exercise, headstand with padmasana legs pose.

Is There a Right Way or Preferred Way to Balance Your Weight?

An interesting point is that there are 100+ different types of yoga practices. Examples include Hatha Yoga, Hot Yoga, Aerial and Iyengar. Hence you will find several yoga routines that include head stands. 

While a head stand pose looks easy, it’s not. In this posture, you have to question where you are placing the bulk of your weight. Are you resting on your arms and head? Are you leaning too far back or forward? How do you know your head is positioned correctly to avoid straining your neck muscles or falling over and hurting your back? 

Experienced yoga instructors may walk you through the 80/20 Pareto Principle. It basically states that about 80% of your weight should be on your elbows, wrists and forearms while only 20% of your weight is on your head. 

While that’s one idea, others think that there’s no correct way of balancing your weight because what if you’re very slim and trim? Does centering your weight and balancing it matter if you’re only 100-lbs versus someone that’s 200-lbs? Because there are several ways to get into and out of this asana, there are also different ways to balance your weight comfortably and confidently without getting hurt. 

“Incredible things can be done simply if we are committed to making them happen.”
Sadhguru

What is Shirshasana Pose?

Salamba Shirshasana or Shirshasana is a Head stand pose that’s used commonly in different types of yoga routines Helpful in strengthening the upper body, this pose is an inverted position in which you stand on your head and your feet and legs are off the ground. Once they are parallel in the air with your body, you use your arms to help support and balance your weight. While this can prove challenging for beginners, this asana is quite popular and offers several benefits. 

Physiology when you are in a head stand, it’s not simply that all the blood rushes to your head. There’s quite a lot going on. Once your body inverts, your pressure goes up because you are increasing the flow of blood into your arms, shoulders, neck and head. You’re also increasing the blood flow in your arteries, heart and lungs and lifting your stomach contents. This inverted change causes your body to react differently and it affects your organs. 

Muscles, joints and ligaments in your upper body are stressed when they have to support your weight and your mind has to remain calm to help balance your weight. While you might have concerns that your blood pressure will skyrocket if you’re on your head, not to worry. The body is a very intricate system where the brain can help regulate your blood pressure even if you’re standing upside down for 30-minutes at a time. 

If you have high or low blood pressure, on the other hand, see the Precaution section to help you understand this particular asana and if you can safely do it.

Always consult a doctor because some yoga poses are not recommended. In this case, with Salamba Shirshasana, you are reducing the blood flow and pressure to your feet and sending it to your head. Let’s take a look at the benefits that can come with doing this asana next. 

“The nature of yoga is to shine the light of awareness into the darkest corners of the body.”
–Jason Crandell

Benefits of Shirshasana Pose 

Because it’s called the king of poses, there are many benefits for the mind and body that come with practicing Shirshasana. From improving blood flow to aiding in digestion, inversions offer many key benefits. 

Sirsasana benefits include:

  • Improving your digestion and helping with waste elimination
  • Resting the heart as it reverses the blood pressure taking it from the feet to the head
  • Stimulating your nervous system and improving your homeostasis, lymph and blood circulation
  • Toning the muscles (arms, back, shoulders, stomach and legs) and reducing stiffness and tightness in the muscles and joints
  • Regulating your blood pressure and central nervous system while also improving your posture, concentration and memory
  • Increasing the function of your pituitary gland, pineal and hypothalamus while conditioning the eyes, ears and brain with the blood pressure shift
  • Improving your concentration, balance and memory while also reducing anxiety, fatigue and depression

Precautions with This Inverted Pose

While beginners should practice with an experienced yoga instructor, some students should avoid head stand pose. As this is a complex asana, consult a physician first if you have a preexisting condition like what’s listed below. 

Who should avoid head stand pose:

  • Young children who are under age seven as their skulls are still hardening and they may be prone to injuries
  • Women who are pregnant and seniors with osteoporosis or anyone with an injury, pain or recent surgery as there is a fall risk
  • Anyone with high blood pressure, migraines or glaucoma as this inversion causes blood to rush to the head

Insert Beginner Tips Yoga Video Tripod Head Stand Noelle Roberts: 

Tips to Ensure Proper Alignment 

Correct alignment is crucial with any pose. However, it’s especially essential with inversions because you can cause debilitating or permanent injuries if you fall. Hence, it’s best to practice with a certified yogi or yogini. A few tips can help ensure you use the right posture with this asana.

These include:

  • Start from a position like Shashankasana (Child pose) and hold that for 10 to 15 seconds. This can help to neutralize your blood pressure in your head and legs prior to head stand pose. 
  • While in Child Pose, put your hands over your head with your elbows in alignment with the shoulders for maximum stability. 
  • Once you place your head on the mat or blanket under you, it should only include the Bregma. This is the crown of your head and hairline. Hence, don’t place your full crown on the floor as it’s more difficult to balance this way and your neck alignment will be incorrect. 
  • Tip: Use Dolphin Pose to build up your upper body muscles.

80/20 or 20/80?

When inverted and balancing your weight, as previously mentioned, strive for 80/20 where the muscles in your abs and back engage fully. 

Some try to achieve 20/80 where they have their weight centered more on their arms, not their neck. In that respect, you’ll have your stomach muscles working more with your back. Again, this is less pressure on the neck. 

3 Minutes or 3 Hours?

Beginners should practice this way and try to hold this asana for 1-minute. If you’re advancing and comfortable with your balance, try to hold for about 2 minutes or 3-5 minutes at the most. There are even some yogis and yoginis in Hatha Yoga Pradipika who hold this asana for 3 hours! When should YOU stop? Stop right away if your arms, neck, back or shoulders begin to tire, you feel like you’re falling or you experience pain.

What you want to avoid is having your hips and pelvis too far back with the bulk of your weight on your hands and neck. It puts a lot of pressure on the back and your stomach muscles aren’t being used adequately. This is a mistake as it can cause injury and compresses the neck muscles too much. The other problem to avoid is having your weight hanging too far behind your head as it’s likely you’ll fall over.  

“Yoga is a light, which once lit will never dim. The better your practice, the brighter your flame.”
— B.K.S. Iyengar

How to Improve Your Inversions

Achieving head stand pose is like the creme de la creme! However, it takes a solid core and strong spine to achieve. To help you master this asana, work on achieving a slower entry and keeping your spine neutral. As an example, some might try for a symmetrical extended leg pose (pike-up, pike-down). This lowers the pressure going onto the neck and head. Using a pike method in this manner can also prove challenging and isn’t recommended for beginners. 

Another option is using a straight leg approach or pike method where the legs come up together in a straight manner instead of curled or scissored. This can also put less pressure on the cervical spine. Ultimately, the safest entry is with the legs going up straight together. Why? It only adds about 40% to 50% of your total weight to your neck and head. When done the traditional or standard way, it’s more like 80%.

The concern is to achieve the straight leg raise, you need a really toned core and one that’s strong enough to hold you while you lift the legs up. It takes time to achieve so be patient. Frode Gasland once said, “Spiritual awakening is like unfollowing who you think you are” – so don’t limit what you might eventually be capable of achieving. 

Watch how Allie teaches ways to build up your core muscles.

TIPS: Want other poses to help you build a strong core and increase your stability? Focus on asanas like Revolving Side Angle, Plank, Side Plank, Shifting Dolphin Plank, Twisted Chair Pose and Boat Pose. 

“You may not be able to control the whole world, but you may learn to control your inner world through yoga.”

Debasish Mridha

Understanding the Importance of Safe and Correct Yoga Techniques

Some yogis and yoginis won’t teach head stand pose to the elderly or new students. They don’t want them to become injured and inversions can take so long to achieve. Whether you’re a new student or pro, remember that challenging poses like these you have to get into gradually so don’t rush to do an inverted pose. 

Your neck and spine are very sensitive and no one wants to risk a nerve impingement or slipped disk. You also don’t want to fall over and fracture a hip or leg. Hence, it’s best to assess the risks with any pose and talk to your instructor before doing it. Use alternatives that you can master like Dolphin Pose to start off with. And, as previously stated, only practice head stand with an instructor or support person who can help hold your legs as you learn to balance. If you don’t have anyone, use the wall but remember not to lean on it.   

headstand

FAQ

What is Headstand Good For?

Head stand is a way to improve blood flow as you are inverted (upside down). Your blood rushes from your feet to your head due to the gravitational pull of the earth. Hence, you’re adding oxygen and nutrients to the hair follicles and scalp. It raises the blood pressure and can improve digestion as it lifts the stomach contents when you’re upside down. 

Additionally, in the digestive system, you’re cleansing and toning the digestive organs and removing toxins from the digestive organs. The increased blood flow is also invigorating for the stomach, intestines, kidneys, liver and reproductive organs.

Here are some great benefits to practising Sirsasana Yoga!

Are Headstands Dangerous?

Inverted poses tend to prove challenging because they usually require more balance, focus, concentration and a strong core to achieve them. Yoga head stand, Handstand and Plow Pose can take time to achieve. 

What’s more, they shouldn’t be done by anyone with osteoporosis, injuries, those with glaucoma or high blood pressure. As an example, anyone with eye floaters or anyone that had blood vessels burst in the eyes shouldn’t try an inverted pose. With regards to your blood pressure, it’s possible to go from 100/60 up to 150/110 or higher. Hence, it can increase the risk of stroke. 

You should also avoid inversions if you’ve had pain, injuries or recent surgery to the neck, back, shoulders, arms or legs. Always consult your physician prior to starting a yoga routine to ensure the poses are safe for you.

How Do Beginners Practice Headstands?

Some students practice somersaults or cartwheels to help them become comfortable with head stands. As a beginner, you might also start a head stand by lying on your back and then raising your legs over your head to the ceiling. However, it’s always best to have a prop like a wall that you can use for support. Only do this pose with an experienced teacher to avoid injuring yourself. The concern is weak wrists or losing your balance but over time as you build up your core strength, it’s easier to stabilize yourself. You’re also not using your wrists but your forearms in head stand pose. Start by doing Dolphin Pose to build your upper body strength. If you do that for 8-10 times a day for about a month, it can help to build up your muscles for head stand pose. 

To get in head stand pose, get on your hands and knees and put your forearms down on the floor. Then put the crown of your head between your forearms. Lift your lower body up and put your head and hands 6-inches from a wall. With your feet close together, bring your hips up above and in line with the shoulders. Keep your wrists, core, and forearms tight so you won’t tilt too far forward. Then take your feet off of the wall and work on your balance by tightening your core and glutes. 

When you’re confident with this pose, practice without the wall and have someone spot you. Don’t bend too far over and never turn your neck as you have sensitive neck muscles. Use a prop like a folded blanket to support your head.  

How Long Is It Safe to Hold a Headstand?

Beginners might hold an upside down pose for 1 to 2 minutes. Seasoned yogis and yoginis might hold this asana for 30 minutes to 3 hours (Hatha Yoga Pradipika).

Is Headstand Easier than Handstand?

Yes and No, because with a handstand, you’re using your hands to support you while a head stand uses your head and forearms. With a handstand, you have a higher center of gravity. Hence, it’s harder to pose. But, here’s something to consider. Some students use handstand pose if they have cervical problems that prevent them from getting into head stands. In that respect, a head stand might be easier. Another option is a tripod inverted pose with your weight on your hands, neck and back. Whenever you choose, always protect your neck and cervical spine and don’t turn the neck during any inverted asana. 

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