HEADSTAND: PRACTICING THE KING OF ASANAS
For many yogis, headstand (or sirsasana) is an integral part of the yoga practice. In fact, it’s often called the king of all poses. (If you’re wondering, shoulderstand is considered to be the queen!)
Benefits of Headstand
Inversions are a special component of the yoga practice because they put the body in positions that otherwise never happen during daily life. It’s easy to see that headstand is the ultimate inversion, and it’s credited with providing a variety of benefits.
Practicing headstand strengthens the muscles of the core and shoulders, and it changes the direction of compression on the spine. This is an important benefit because it counteracts the sitting and standing we do in daily life. Relatedly, headstand reduces swelling in the legs and feet and helps prevent varicose veins, also caused by excessive sitting.
In addition, headstand (quite literally) offers a new perspective and helps yogis overcome fear and improve focus. Many practitioners find that it reduces stress, anxiety, and insomnia as well, leaving them with a pleasant relaxed feeling.
Tips for Headstand
While practicing headstand will improve core and upper body strength, you also need a certain amount of strength to get there in the first place. If you’re struggling with headstand, try doing more strength building first.
Proper alignment is also crucial for practicing headstand safely. First, your head should be in the same neutral position as in tadasana, with all four sides of the neck equally long. This keeps the weight on the crown of the head and avoids putting too much stress on the vertebrae. And, also like in tadasana, the ankles, hips, and shoulders should all be in one straight line.
To practice safely, it’s also important to use control to come in and out of headstand. Don’t jump or bounce into the pose. Instead, use your core strength to lift your legs up.
The most common variation of headstand is salamba sirsasana, also called supported headstand. In this pose, the hands and elbows create a triangle around the head with the forearms on the floor. Only about 30 percent of the weight should actually be on the head, with the rest divided evenly between the arms.
If you’re already comfortable holding headstand, try playing with different leg positions, like eagle, lotus, or straddle.
Risks and Contraindications of Headstand
However, practicing headstand doesn’t come without risks. When done with improper alignment, it can cause serious injury to the vertebrae of the neck. It’s also easy to get injured if you don’t have sufficient strength to come into headstand with control.
Additionally, headstand is a pose that simply isn’t safe for everybody. Yogis with high blood pressure, glaucoma, diabetes, or a history of stroke or heart disease are not recommended to practice headstand, or any inversions.
Headstand is also usually unsafe for students with inner ear problems, neck or spinal issues, or osteoporosis. However, they can get many of the same benefits from practicing legs up the wall.
As you work on the king of asanas or think about trying it, make sure you’re listening to your body and honoring where you’re at in your practice.
About the Author
Jen is a freelance writer, blogger, and yoga teacher who left her office job in Boston to travel the world with her husband. She previously worked in international development and academic research, and served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Rwanda. Some of her biggest passions include promoting responsible and mindful travel and helping her students develop their personal yoga practice.