If you’ve ever seen someone in a yoga class flip upside down into a headstand and think, “No way is that for me,” think again. While the pose is definitely more complicated than, say, warrior II or cobra, headstands aren’t as impossible as they might seem. As it goes with any more advanced yoga posture, learning how to do a headstand is all about building strength, balance, and an understanding of the mechanics involved in the move.
A headstand, also known as salamba sirsasana in Sanskrit, is an inverted position that places you upside down (hence the name). While it’s certainly impressive to see, the pose comes with a variety of benefits that make the challenge worth it. For one, being upside down is thought to increase blood flow to your brain, which can make you feel more alert, says Mimi Ghandour, a yoga teacher and founder of MimiYoga. Balancing upside down can also help reduce swelling in the lower half of your body, she tells Bustle, particularly in the ankles and feet.
Though you’re balancing still in a headstand, the pose is effectively working some of your muscles. According to fitness trainer and yoga pro Annie Landa of Annie Moves, headstands are a great way to relieve muscle tension while also giving your arms, shoulders, and core a workout. “It is the OG pose as it engages the core to a whole new level,” she tells Bustle. It’s also strengthening your arms and shoulders since all of your body weight falls on your upper body, says Landa.
Of course, if you’re more of a beginner-level yogi, you shouldn’t just flip upside down and attempt a headstand right away. Instead, Ghandour recommends following a general yoga practice to build strength and balance before giving it a go. According to Landa, most people get an inkling when it’s time to try flipping upside down. “It’s as if you will know when you’ll feel ready to safely give it a try,” she says. Read on for tips on how to do a headstand, straight from the pros.
Work On Headstand Prep
Patrick Franco, yoga director of YogaRenew Online Teacher Training, says it’s important to work your way up to a headstand at your own pace. To do this, he suggests working on standing postures first before adding in weight-bearing poses, like downward facing dog or wide-leg standing forward folds. Add these poses to your routine, then try this headstand prep sequence so you can see what it’ll feel like to do a headstand. Don’t go further than this until you’ve built up your strength, says Franco, since headstands do come with a risk of injury.
- Bring your forearms to the floor and interlace your palms. Make sure your elbows are under your shoulders.
- Place the crown of your head on the floor, letting your palms cup the back of your skull.
- Curl your toes, lift your knees, and straighten your legs. If you feel a lot of pressure on your head and neck you should come down. Otherwise, proceed.
- Walk your feet in until your hips are over your shoulders and press your elbows, forearms, and wrists into the floor.
- Lift one leg up. Stay and breathe. Repeat with the other leg.
- Walk feet back and rest in child's pose.
How To Do A Headstand
Once you feel confident that you’re ready to try a full headstand, Landa suggests shimmying up to a wall for support and following this step-by-step guide.
- Stand on your yoga mat.
- Find yourself sitting over your feet with your knees bent and together.
- Interlace your hands behind your neck and move forward until the crown of your head and your elbows and forearms are on the ground.
- Make sure that your elbows are open to the width of your shoulders, as if you are forming a triangle on the floor with your head and your elbows.
- From there, try lifting your knees off the ground.
- Your toes, arms, and head will remain on the floor.
- Now, try walking your toes slowly in towards your face.
- Once your feet are as close to your face as possible, try lifting one of your legs up off the floor to test if your core is ready.
- If you feel stable, use your core strength to lift one leg off the ground. Once you’re balanced, lift the other.
- Try resting your legs back against the wall.
- When you’re ready to come out of the pose, use your core to slowly lower your legs back down to the mat with control.
- Once you’re on the floor again, try a child’s pose to relax and soften your neck.
How Long Should You Hold The Headstand Pose?
Once you’re able to do headstands, Franco suggests aiming for one-minute inversions to start. “This can be increased over time, gradually and consistently, towards 10 minutes in duration or even longer,” he tells Bustle. “Typically, the benefits of a headstand accrue the longer one is in the pose.” But it’s up to you to figure out what feels right for your fitness level and goals.
How To Modify The Headstand Pose
Ghandour recommends practicing a supported headstand (against a wall or door) before trying a free-standing pose with your legs stretched all the way up. You may also want to call in the help of a friend, partner, or family member to spot you as you give it a go, she adds. Having someone nearby will help you feel more confident, especially if you’re worried about tipping over.
Common Headstand Mistakes
A common mistake many folks make is placing the elbows too far apart in an effort to create a wider base. While it might feel like this would give you more balance, Ghandour says it actually throws off the proper alignment of a headstand — so keep those elbows tucked in line with your shoulders.
Also, remember that a headstand isn’t actually about balancing on your head. Instead, your weight should be in your arms and shoulders, and that requires a lot more control than you might think. “Often, yogis will kick up into the pose instead of using their core strength to get there,” Ghandour says. Remember, go slow and lift with control.
As a final note, it’s more than OK if you don’t want to do a headstand, or if you never quite build your way up to it. According to Franco, there is no set timeframe for practicing a headstand, and it isn’t something you have to add to your routine, either. You can always invert your body in other ways, like downward facing dog or crow pose, if that’s more your style.
Kondrashova, T. (2019). Dynamic assessment of cerebral blood flow and intracranial pressure during inversion table tilt using ultrasonography. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31398694/
Mimi Ghandour, yoga teacher
Annie Landa, fitness pro and yoga instructor with Annie Moves
Patrick Franco, yoga director