I was helping a couple of people find balance in tripod this week, and one of them mentioned to me that it would be SO helpful to have a tutorial of HOW to get into a headstand from a beginner’s perspective.
Most of the tutorials (and I’ve caught myself saying these things) mention the ‘popping’ of the legs, and ‘just lift one leg and the other will follow’ — and these are GREAT tips, but if you don’t know what to expect or what those sensations feel like (as a beginner), then you might find yourself frustrated and confused.
So, to help and provide some instruction, I’m prepping a series of ‘Let’s do this headstand thing’ posts.
This week, I want to focus on poses that will aid a headstand pose. There are many to help gear you for a headstand, but I want to focus on 10 as a starting reference. Thinking back, I realized that practicing these poses and understanding their importance not just physically but also mentally helped me achieve a headstand.
Why it helps with headstands: It’s the first measure of strength I found when starting and really getting into my yoga practice. The practice of tucking the elbows inward and controlling the body to move as one unit mentally and physically prepares for the demands of a headstand. This is the pose I give credit to most for my ‘yogi strength.’
Why it helps with headstands: Another usual suspect in most yoga practices, downward-facing dog is an inversion posture. I didn’t realize that an inversion meant any posture where the head drops below the heart (I really thought it applied to head and handstands), but this pose is a great place to start with inversions. Even more, once you learn to rest into the heels and lift the seat, you start to create space in the back and shoulders. This is immensely helpful when learning to headstand.
Why it helps with headstands: Similar to downward-facing dog, this pose helps create space in the back and really opens the shoulders. It’s also a deeper inversion and gets the arms ready for a balance. You can also play with lifting the legs individually in this pose, which helps get the body ready for being upside-down.
Why it helps with headstands: This is a deep hip opener/stretch. The hips are like the ‘junk drawers’ of the body — we store anxiety, tension, emotion here. Learning to open them and stretch them helps free the mind for the mental part of headstands.
Why it helps with headstands: Camel requires trust. You can start with your hands in the small of the back, working to open the back and prepare for a dropback. Once you can let the head hang back and you can see behind you, then the dropback becomes accessible. There’s so much of a mental game when it comes to headstands, and camel helps prepare for that.
Chair with a twist
Why it helps with headstands: This one probably seems the most out of place. But I include it because it teaches L/R control. You’re twisting and opening to one side while controlling the opposite hip and leg. Your body wants to move in one direction and you have to control it to move in opposite directions. The same is true of a headstand. Take tripod headstand — you have to balance and push down into the hands/fingers while controlling the front/back push and pull of the legs.
Low forearm plank with Sphinx arms
Why it helps with headstands: I added ‘Sphinx arms’ because in low plank, most people tend to bring the hands together in front of the head. Controlling with Sphinx arms (keeping the palms flat and hands parallel) helps open the back and shoulders and preps the arms for balance.
Why it helps with headstands: Another focus on the hips! This helps open and stretch the hips, which I found so helpful when controlling the hips to stack in line with the shoulders in headstand. Plus, controlling your heels to stay flat while in a low squat proves to be a physical meets mental challenge.
Wide-legged forward bend
Why it helps with headstands: Getting the body ready to be upside-down is helpful! This wide-legged forward fold is awesome prep for tripod headstand. You can play with the arm and foot placement to challenge the inversion even more.
Why it helps with headstands: Headstands are 80% mental. You have to learn to get out of your head and just GO for it. Your mind will block you before your physical body has a chance to understand the movements in a headstand position. Savasana was one of the hardest poses for me to learn (still learning!) but it’s about being fully conscious and awake but relaxed and not letting the mind wander to your task list. This is SO hard!
I hope these help your headstand journey! I should note that ALL physical activity should be cleared by your doc before you begin your journey. This is especially important if you have pre-existing conditions or previous injuries. Headstands are awesome and full of adventure, but there can be physical implications if they are performed incorrectly. Take your time and consult your doc and yoga instructor for help!