Headstand is one of those classical yoga postures that you either love or hate. There’s very little middle ground when it comes to this pose. No matter which side of the spectrum you are on for what ever reason you are there (injury, fear, feeling like a kid again…), we are going to work on headstand this month. Don’t worry, we don’t all have to look the same. The thing the magazines and don’t tell you is that the process of getting into the pose is the pose itself. Getting your body to look just like the ideal image of headstand may not be the objective for some of you out there reading this. And that is ok.
Headstand is a pose that we do not need to rush into. It takes an enormous amount of core strength and body awareness to do this pose safely. Not to mention upper body strength and proper alignment of the head and neck.
So, let’s start from the beginning and get ourselves prepared to put the head on the floor. We will not be going 100% upside-down in this article.
Finding the sweet spot on the head that can sustain your body weight above it is vital to practicing any version of headstand. There are two tricks that work great to help you find the crown of the head.
- Take the heel of the hand to the space between the eye brows. Extend your fingers up and over the head. Where the middle finger lands, that’s your crown. The perfect place to have on the floor for headstand. Rub it just a little so you get a sense of where it’s at.
- Second trick is to take the hands to that perfect spot. Get your posture really nice through your spine and then press straight down. If you are in the right spot, it will feel strong and stable. Now, move your hands ½ an inch forward and press straight down. You’ll notice your neck collapses pretty easily. The same thing happens when you are ½ an inch or more behind the crown of your head. We do not what your neck collapsing while you are upside down! (See video below to watch how to find these places.)
Now that you know where the crown of your head is, lets talk about the hands. We are going to be resting our forearms on the floor, wrapped around our heads. It’s important to know the proper alignment of the hands, arms and shoulders so that you can safely support 2/3 of your body weight or more in the arms. That means that 1/3 or less of your body weight will actually rest into your head and neck.
Different teachers will have different techniques for this. I have found some good tips along the way that I’ll share with you. (I’ve been practicing headstand consistently since I was a kid, 30+ years.) First off we will interlace the fingers and lock the thumbs over each other. I find locking the thumbs is a useful tool to keep the hands strong, wrists neutral and the upper body engaged. It is more difficult to do this if the fingers are interlaced and the hands open. With the hands interlaced, thumbs locked, you’ll notice that there is the size of a golf ball or tennis ball inside your hands. We want this space here rather than palms all the way together touching or all the way open. You should be able to feel the strength in your hands, arms and shoulders if you offer just a little resistance to them. (video #2)
Let’s move to a kneeling posture and place the hands and forearms on the ground. To make sure the elbows are in the right place, let’s wrap the fingers of both hands around opposite arms. Keeping the elbows this close to each other will give us better front to back stability. Now, keep the elbows the same distance and interlace the hands, locking the thumbs as above. Try pressing down into the forearms to feel how the shoulders can engage and get really strong. The movement of the shoulders when you press into the floor is down away from the neck and ears. The neck should feel open and spacious.
Last two steps for today. Place the head on the floor, finding the sweet spot we discovered earlier. The head is cradled into the hands and arms. Press the forearms down again and reengage the shoulders. This can be your headstand for today.
If this all feels good, tuck the toes and lift the hips like downward facing dog. The feet are on the floor along with the head and arms. Hold here and breathe for 1-5 deep, conscious breaths. Notice if while you hold, you are able to engage the core while also staying strong in the arms and shoulders. This last pose is a great place to start building the strength necessary to eventually go all the way upside down.
Happy practicing! Let me know if you have questions along the way.
Enjoy your practice,