Headstand  -Salamba Sirsasana

Step by step

We recommend practising Headstand under the supervision of a teacher who can work with you in person. This guidance is aimed at people who are already experienced with Headstand. You can practise Dolphin pose in place of Headstand.

  • Bring the short edge of your mat to a wall. You can fold over one end for some extra support or place a neatly folded, non-slip blanket on top of the mat.
  • Come onto your hands and knees, facing the wall.
  • Place your elbows forearm distance apart on the blanket or folded mat. Bring your hands together, fingers interlaced, little finger side on the floor, and tuck your bottom little finger in.
  • Your arms will form a triangular base - make sure this base is fully on the mat or blanket. Your hands should be close to the wall, not quite touching it.
  • Come into a Dolphin pose - tuck your toes, press down through your forearms, lift your hips up to the ceiling and then take the hips back.
  • Keep lifting through the hips, relax your head and neck, let the head hang. Walk your feet in and allow the top of the head to touch the floor so that the back of the head is resting against the palms of your hands. Keep space between the cupped palms.
  • Keep your neck long at all times, and for now put no weight in the head. Use the strength of your arms, your base, to make sure that you're strong enough to perform the Headstand safely.
  • Keep your shoulders away from your ears so that you are not crunching your neck.
  • Firm your upper arms in so as not to let the elbows splay out. Your forearms are pressed into the floor. Keep the tops of the wrists pointing up.
  • Maintain the length in the front and back of your body, with the front lower ribs in. Keep lifting through the arms.

When you can consistently stay in Dolphin pose for 25 breaths each time you practise it without weight in the head, your upper body will be strong enough to support you safely in Headstand. 

  • To continue, walk your feet in even further towards your body. Keep lifting through the hips but allow some weight down through the crown of the head. Lengthen through the neck. Your arms should be taking more of the weight than your head.
  • You will feel the feet and legs almost naturally coming off the floor. Bend one knee into the chest, then the other knee, still keeping most of the weight in your arms. On an inhale bring your legs up in line with the rest of the body - hips above shoulders and ankles above hips.
  • Lift through the back of your pelvis, your abdomen firmed in, broaden the back of the legs, which release the buttocks away from the sacrum.
  • Keep length through the back and front of the body, keep the neck long, and press the shoulders blades down and into the spine.
  • Keep your face soft and breathe calmly and evenly in your abdomen.
  • With the right alignment, Headstand should feel light, and your neck should feel uncompressed and long. If it doesn't, keep the weight in your arms and keep strengthening your foundation.
  • To come out, bend your knees and bring your feet to the buttocks, knees to the chest, and with control bring your feet back to the floor.

Beginners tips

  • Headstand is a controversial pose. While it is known as the King of Poses because of its reported benefits, some teachers feel the weight on the neck is too great a risk and no longer teach it for that reason.
  • These instructions are meant as a guide only and we recommend practising in the presence of a teacher who can help you with your alignment. 
  • Whether you choose to practise the full pose or not, building up strength in the arms, shoulders and core first is essential preparation. Practise a class such as Nichi Green's Headstand prep or Sandra Carson's Headstand 101. This preparation work will help you with your whole yoga practice and in many ways is more challenging than being in Headstand - so be patient!
  • Core strengthening work will help with all inversions. Simply holding Plank pose and Downward Dog for 1 to 2 minutes is a great place to start. Next, work on Dolphin pose as described and then Forearm balance or Handstand to get used to being upside down without any weight on the neck.

Benefits

  • Draws fresh blood into the upper body while stimulating drainage and circulation to the legs
  • It quietens the mind and so prepares you for meditation
  • Strengthens the arms, legs and back
  • Strengthens the core
  • Warms up the upper back, so Headstand is a great preparation for backbends
  • Improves mood for many people

Watch out for

  • Avoid Headstand if you have any neck or shoulder problems. Headstand may exacerbate existing injuries or cause new injuries if not practised correctly.
  • If you have high blood pressure or glaucoma, inversions (where the head is lower than the heart) are not recommended. 
  • There is debate over whether practising inversions while menstruating is safe for women. However, the evidence is not clear on either side (indeed it would be very difficult to research). Legs up the wall pose is a good alternative which still provides many benefits that inversions offer.

Variations

  • You can practise half-Headstand with one or both of the legs at 90 degrees parallel to the floor.
  • There are several leg variations including bringing the soles of the feet together and knees out, Garudasana (Eagle pose) legs, or into Lotus pose - known as Padmasana Sirsasana or Urdhva Padmasana.

Try the following classes for more level 3 Headstand variations

Headstand 301 with Sandra Carson - 45 mins

Advanced yoga lesson: Headstand variations with Andrew Wrenn - 60 mins