Whether you’re a beginner or seasoned yoga practitioner, performing a headstand might seem like a dangerous exercise that’s equally attractive and scary. It’s good to approach this yoga pose with respect but there’s no need to be scared. With perseverance and our pro tips, you’ll master a headstand in a few weeks.

What benefits does a headstand have?

When you turn your body upside down, it has many direct physical effects but it can also make you feel better mentally. Here are the main benefits of a headstand:

  • It calms the mind – even though you may be a little anxious going into it, a headstand requires your undivided attention and, at least for the duration of it, you are not thinking about anything else. This lasersharp focus has amazing effects on your mental wellbeing because it stops your monkey mind, breaks any inner monologues, worries or planning and brings your mind to a halt. That’s not an easy thing to do! Afterwards, you experience a great moment of calm.
  • It can alleviate stress and depression – these effects are down to both physical and mental stimulation. In a headstand, you engage your core muscles important for upright posture which helps to make you feel more empowered. At the same time, the pressure on the crown of the head is known to help soothe your nerves, and is also used in other grounding yoga poses. It is not known exactly why this happens but you’ll definitely feel the effect!
  • It may stimulate endorphin release – endorphins are the feel-good pain-suppressing hormones produced by your pituitary gland. It is often claimed that headstand increases the blood flow into the brain and that’s what stimulates the pituitary but that’s not true. Your brain has a very fail-safe mechanism for regulating its blood supply, even if you’re upside down! However, strenuous exercise does stimulate the release of endorphins from the pituitary – and that’s what happens during a headstand! As a result, you feel good and it may even help you tone down anxiety.
  • It supports your lymphatic system – turning upside down helps to move the lymph through your lymphatic system, and that in turn, supports your immune system. The lymphatic system is a one-way system of lymph vessels collecting the fluid that bathes your cells, including all their metabolic byproducts, and returning it to the bloodstream. Along the way, the lymph goes through lymph nodes where white blood cells clean it up, destroying pathogens and breaking down waste. 
  • It strengthens your core and upper body – you may not be able to do a headstand right away because you’ll have to strengthen some muscles first. As you do that and then are able to do a full headstand, your core and upper body muscles are gaining strength. That is not just useful for the actual headstand, it also improves your posture, and may alleviate back pain!
  • It may help to prevent headaches – this is individual but in some people, a regular headstand practice helps to prevent headaches. It may have to do with the fact that when you invert, the higher pressure of blood on the carotid arteries (in your neck) signals to the nervous system to lower the blood pressure and this effect lasts for a while. This may relieve some of the tension in the blood vessels in your brain and face, preventing headaches – but science has yet to verify it. 

When you’re suffering from a headache or migraine, do not attempt a headstand – wait it out. For some people who are prone to neck and shoulder tension, headstands may actually bring on a headache as they can increase this tension. If that’s you, only practice headstands when you’re not too tense! In the meantime, try meditation to release some of the stress you may be carrying.

When not to do a headstand?

Although headstand is considered the king of the asanas (yoga poses), there are situations when you shouldn’t do it. These include:

Neck, shoulder, or back pain – to avoid making the pain worse, avoid headstands. They inevitably put pressure on all these areas and may hinder your recovery. 

High blood pressure or a heart condition – doing a headstand helps to temporarily lower your blood pressure afterwards, but the pressure first increases during the headstand. That can be dangerous for people whose blood pressure is already too high or whose heart health is otherwise compromised.

Osteoporosis – if you have osteoporosis (brittle bone disease), headstands may put too much pressure on the spine, increasing the risk of fracture.

Menstruation – any inversions reverse the flow of the menstrual blood, may cause irregularities, and even disrupt your menstrual flow. However, this is individual, so only you can decide what’s right for you.

Pregnancy – this is a debatable one. Some say that if you have an established headstand practice, and your body is used to it, then it’s safe to continue even in pregnancy. However, everyone agrees that if you haven’t practiced headstands before, pregnancy is not the time to start.

Glaucoma – a condition that damages the optic nerve or retina, and usually includes increased pressure in the eye. As headstand increases this pressure even more, it is recommended that people with glaucoma do not practice it to avoid further damage.

How to prepare for a headstand?

You may be able to just lift off into a headstand straight away but chances are you may need some prep. A regular yoga practice is excellent for all the lengthening and strengthening you may need but there are a few key areas to focus on.

Lengthening your hamstrings

When you put your head down, preparing for a headstand, you want to walk your feet as close to your body as possible to stack the spine. And you cannot do that if your hamstrings are so tight that your feet are far away from you, and your back is rounding.

To help release tight hamstrings, forward folds are very helpful – standing or seated. Try the Skill Yoga Mobility Foundations program to increase your hamstring flexibility.

Strengthening the core, back and shoulders

To get into a headstand and hold it safely for a while, you need a strong core, back and shoulders. Only then can you do a headstand without the risk of muscle strains or injuries. But worry not – yoga practice is geared up towards equipping you with the right strength!

Practicing plank, chaturanga, downward dog and dolphin pose (downward dog with forearms on the ground) help to strengthen your core and shoulders. At the same time, cobra pose, locust, lifting opposite arm and leg, warrior III and other poses where you engage your back muscles give you the right back strength. Check out the Strength Foundations program!

Stretching the triceps and side body

For the headstand version with forearms on the floor, you need to be able to put your elbows next to your head. This may sound like a piece of cake but many athletes with strong muscles somewhat lack the mobility to do that. In order to be able to achieve this position, you need to lengthen your triceps and the side body.

A good old downward dog is a great starting position, and so are various side bends with your arm up, elbow bent and forearm behind your head. Try the Mobility Foundations program to get you started!

Safety tips

Before you get started, there are a few things to bear in mind. If you don’t have a friend to help make sure you don’t tumble over, start practicing near a wall. You shouldn’t rely on the wall too much but it can provide a literal safety net while you’re learning.

If practicing a headstand makes you nervous, take a short break between the attempts, sit on your heels, breathe deeply and recenter.

It’s always better to gain some strength and flexibility first before attempting a headstand because if you lack both and try to get into the position by kicking your legs up, you’re much more likely to get injured. Having said that, if you’re almost there and need to kick up just a little, that’s fine as long as you have control over the movement. Just don’t get in the habit of kicking your legs up so hard that you slam into the wall every time.

When you start practicing away from the wall, place a blanket on the floor in front of you. If you happen to tumble over, it’ll cushion the landing. Falling out of a headstand is actually not that awful – when you feel you’re falling, tuck your chin in, release your hands, and you’ll just roll forward.

How to do a forearm headstand 

The forearm version of a headstand is much safer for your neck because once you get into the pose, your forearms carry much of the weight. This is how to do it:

  1. Sit in on your heels and measure the right elbow distance by placing opposite hands at the elbow creases. Keep your arms like that and place them down on your mat.
  2. Release the hands and interlace your fingers, creating a triangle shape with your forearms. Tuck the bottom pinky finger to the inside of the palm, so you have a more stable base. 
  3. Place the top of your head on the mat inside your hands, so your hands are just lightly touching the back of your head.
  4. Lift your hips and straighten your legs, then start walking your feet towards your head, bringing your hips above your shoulders as much as possible. 
  5. Lift one foot off the ground and bring the knee close to your chest, shin is vertical, toes pointed. Then do the same with the other leg and hold both knees close to your chest. This is the critical point – a little hop may be needed. (If you need a large hop, do some more prep or try the other headstand version below.)
  1. Slowly straighten your legs up, hold and breathe. Once you have your balance, lift from your shoulders so you feel some weight lifted from your head.
  2. Remain in headstand for 10 breaths (or longer once you get the hang of it), then slowly bend your knees and lower your legs with control. You shouldn’t hit the floor like a sack of potatoes!
  3. Rest in child’s pose for 20 breaths.

How to do a tripod headstand

This version may be slightly easier for beginners but it still requires core strength. It also puts more pressure on the neck so make sure you have the correct alignment!

  1. Sit in on your heels and measure the right elbow distance by placing opposite hands at the elbow creases. Keep your arms at this distance and place your hands on the mat.
  2. Place the top of your head down slightly ahead of your hands, creating a triangle shape – your hands are at the base of the triangle and your head at its top. Your forearms should be at a right angle to the floor, and elbows not flaring out.  
  3. Lift your hips and straighten your legs, then start walking your feet towards your head, bringing your hips above your shoulders as much as possible.
  4. Press your hands actively into the floor, then lift one foot off the ground and bring the knee on top of your upper arm, then do the same with the other leg. Toes pointed towards the ceiling.* 
  5. Slowly lift and straighten your legs up, hold and breathe. 
  1. Remain in headstand for 10 breaths (or longer once you get the hang of it), then slowly bend your knees and lower them onto your upper arms again, then release them onto the floor. 
  2. Rest in child’s pose for 20 breaths.

*When you get more advanced, you may be able to skip step 4 and just lift your legs straight up. Then you can also lower them directly down without putting your knees on your upper arms.

Start practicing today

Mastering a headstand may take weeks of practice but once you perfect it, it’ll feel amazing every time!

If you’d like to do targeted headstand practices, we have a specialized workout just for that – try it now!

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