Headstand, also known as Shirshasana, is the yoga pose where you literally stand on the top of your head. Headstand not only makes you see the world upside down – it also has the capacity to immensely improve your physical and mental health and well-being. Due to its many benefits, it is one of the main poses in Hatha Yoga and is also referred to as “The King of Asanas.”
When standing in Headstand, not only is the body upside down – the blood pressure is also reversed. The blood pressure changes in the head, neck, shoulders, veins, blood vessels, lungs and legs. This movement forces the body to react to keep the balance in different body systems. The thought of increasing blood in the head might sound a bit scary. Fortunately, our body has strong systems to keep the body and the brain safe.
Headstand has a lot of benefits and is safe to practice when you are in good physical health and practice the pose under guidance of an experienced teacher.
Here are 7 tips to help you practice Headstand safely and effectively:
1. The benefits of headstands:
- Stimulates the pineal gland, hypothalamus and pituitary gland. This causes the other endocrine glands to coordinate and function better
- Improves the condition of the brain, eyes and ears by the increased blood pressure
- Improves concentration and memory
- Alleviates mental fatigue, depression and anxiety
- Improves the function of the central nervous system
- Improves the ability of the body to regulate the blood pressure by stimulating the baroreceptors
- Improves the condition of the heart by the reversed blood pressure
- Improves posture and activates/strengthens the core
- Strengthens the muscles in the back, shoulders and arms
- Improves the blood regulation and the circulation of lymph in the entire body
- Improves the digestion and stimulation of the removal of harmful substances
2. Don’t do headstands if . . .
Headstand is not for everyone, due to the complex nature of the pose. The following people should not practice Shirshasana:
- Children under the age of 7 years old, as their skull can still be soft and is prone to injuries
- Pregnant women, because there is a high risk of falling out of the pose
- People with Glaucoma, because it can increase the pressure in the eyes
- People who suffer from acute or heavy migraines
- People with shoulder or neck issues need to be fully recovered before attempting Headstand
- People with hypertension, because it can aggravate the disorder
- People with serious heart problems
- People with osteoporosis
3. How to practice headstands safely and correctly:
Proper alignment while practicing Headstand is very important. When your alignment is not optimal, it can cause injuries instead of benefits.
Start in Child’s Pose for several breaths. This pose neutralizes the blood pressure in the legs and in the head.
In figure A. the weight of the body is divided in a 80/20 ratio between the head and the arms. The core of the upper body and the back are equally active. This is the ideal alignment for those who want to stay in Headstand for a longer period of time.
In figure B. the weight of the body is divided in a 20/80 ratio between the head and the arms. There is more weight on the arms and less on the head. The core of the upper body is more active than the back muscles. This alignment is perfect for those who want to build up core control and who want to have less pressure on the neck. For beginners, this is the safest way to start practicing Headstand. If you feel comfortable in this alignment for 30 seconds, you are ready to adjust the pose to the alignment shown in figure A.
In figure C. the weight is on the neck and hands. The back muscles need to work hard to stay in this pose, because of the way the hips are hanging towards the front. The core is not adequately engaged. This alignment is not ideal, because it causes a lot of pressure to the neck and the back which can lead to injuries.
In figure D. the weight of the body falls beyond the head which makes it almost impossible for anyone to stay in this pose.
Figures A. and B. are appropriate for practicing Headstand, while figures C. and D. should be avoided.
4. Why practicing a headstand against a wall is not recommended
You should avoid using a wall when practicing Headstand because you are not using the right muscles to divide the weight during the pose. Instead of bringing the weight on the head and
arms, you tend to bring the weight to the wall, which makes you stay in the pose for longer than your body can actually manage, which can potentially lead to injuries.
5. Step-by-step directions for getting into a headstand
An empty stomach is ideal, so try not to eat for 2-3 hours before practicing Headstand. Make sure you spend some time warming up before entering into the pose. If you are not practicing on a soft, natural surface, you should use a 3-5 centimeter thick blanket underneath the head to protect the skull.
To practice a headstand, follow these steps:
Sit on the knees and grab opposite elbows to measure the ideal distance between them. Once you have the right distance between the elbows, bring the arms to the floor, directly beneath the shoulders.
- Bring the hands together and interlace your fingers, making a basket. Make sure to keep the elbows in the same place during the entire pose and not move them in- or outside. The arms should make a triangle shape.
- Place the head on the floor and the back of the head in your cupped hands.
- Curl the toes, straighten the knees and push the hips towards the ceiling.
- Walk your feet towards the shoulders.
- Bring your right knee into the chest and then follow by also bringing the left knee to the chest, so the spine is straight.
- Take a deep breath and bring your legs up, reaching towards the ceiling. Look at a focus point that is eye level. Keep breathing and hold the pose for as long as feels comfortable.
- Push your shoulders away from the ears to protect the neck from excess pressure.
- Do not let the hips go beyond the shoulders, so you don’t lose balance and fall out of the pose.
- When practicing near a wall, do not lean against it. Try to only use it as a safety net to keep you from falling.
There are many different opinions of the maximum amount of time to stay in Headstand. The oldest Hatha yoga scriptures tell us you can stay in Headstand for as long as you can, as long as it is comfortable and stable and you do not have to exert extreme effort to remain in the pose. Over time, you start to notice that little by little you can stay in the pose for a longer period of time.
6. Frequent mistakes
A lot of people are not capable of practicing Headstand the correct way. They feel pain or get injured because of the following frequently made mistakes:
- The hips go beyond the shoulders
- Placing your elbows too far away from each other
- Placing the head in a wrong position – either too far towards the forehead or too far towards the back of the head
- Practicing the pose on too hard of a surface
- Breathing too quickly or too shallow
7. Common myths
Throughout the years, many misleading myths have formed about Headstand.
Some examples are:
- During pregnancy you can hurt the baby (we recommend not practicing Headstand while pregnant, but only because of the risk of falling)
- Headstand can damage the brain
- Headstand is not safe for the neck (only true with neck injuries)
- Headstand is not safe for the eyes (only true with Glaucoma)
Headstand provides many benefits when performed the right way. We recommend you learn Headstand from a skilled and experienced teacher who understands the pose very well. But once you’ve learned this valuable pose, you will reap the many benefits of inversions and all the wonderful ways they positively impact your mind and body. Enjoy practicing “The King of Asanas” and be sure to ask us any questions or share your Headstand stories in the comments below. Happy Headstands!