If you’ve been practicing yoga for a while now and feel pretty confident about being able to bend, twist, balance, and flow through your practice using the strength of your muscles and the calmness of your mind, then perhaps it’s time to consider trying one of the slightly more advanced poses. Headstand (Shirshasana) is one such pose that looks easy when done by pro, but it takes some serious upper body strength and core strength to get yourself up there without toppling over.
In the supported version of this pose, the body balances on the forearms as the fingers interlace and support the back of the head while the shoulders and core do the real work. Headstands are said to offer a wide range of benefits, including stimulated brain function and mood enhancement as blood flow and oxygen move down through the inverted body to the head.
It’s important to practice this pose correctly to avoid injuring the neck or back — especially since the majority of the weight should be supported by the arms and balanced with the core. Anyone just starting out with giving this pose a try would greatly benefit from just practicing how to get the placement of the arms and head right before trying to lift the lower body up.
Here are some of the main tips that really helped me when I first started practicing this beautiful pose as a newbie.
Find the Crown of Your Head
The position of the head is very important when doing a headstand because you don’t want it to be too far forward or too far back in a way that strains your neck. You’ll need to use the crown of your head, which you can easily get a feel for by grabbing a yoga block or a book and balancing it on the top of your head.
Interlace Your Fingers
Interlacing the fingers is easy, but there’s one small shift you may want to make to the single pinky finger that’s on the outside. Simply bring the pinky slightly inward so that the sides of both hands where your pinkies are can be level. This will keep that little pinky that was once on the outside from being squashed when you’re on the floor.
Practice Dolphin Pose
Dolphin pose looks like downward dog, but with the forearms down on the floor (and in this case for practicing a headstand, the interlaced hands are supporting the back of the head too). The great thing about this pose is that you can get a real feel for where your arms should be (about shoulder width apart) in preparation for headstand and how your head should be positioned as you look straight out in front of you, keeping the neck long.
Play Around With the Legs
Once you’ve got a good feel for how the upper portion of your body on the ground should be placed while in dolphin pose, you can experiment with walking the legs up further toward your head or practice lifting each individual leg in preparation for eventually lifting up and balancing. Plan to do this along a wall to keep it safe.
Need a visual walkthrough? Here’s a great video that shows all the detailed steps that beginners can take to safely and effectively practice moving into a full supported headstand:
Take it slow. It could be week or months before you can successfully do a headstand without falling over. Everybody is different.
Remember that if you experience any pain at all, stop immediately and either adjust or give it a rest. You don’t want to injure yourself, and you can always come back the next day or whenever you’re ready to practice again.
Image (edited) via Omar Bariffi