Headstand is an introductory inversion that can set the foundation for more advanced ones such as forearm stand and handstand. Because it is so easy to get into a headstand, sometimes it is achieved with compromised technique.
In this post I will be answering 16 of the most common questions I have received about headstands in workshops and private sessions. The questions are grouped based on the personality of the students: the optimists, the analytical minds and the scared ones.
1. What are the benefits of doing headstands?
Because headstands is a pose accessible to most practitioners from the very start of their yoga journey it allows them to quickly get comfortable upside down. Of the 3 main invasions headstand is the only one where beginners can use a mirror for visual feedback. By accumulating time in a headstand you can improve your understanding of scapula depression and shoulder external rotation. There are also 3 benefits all inversions share: proprioception, breathing and mid-section awareness.
2. What are the different types of headstands?
The main 2 variations of headstands is the supported and tripod one. In the supported headstand the forearms are on the floor and thus the weight on the head can be minimised. However those with tight trapezius often find this version restrictive. In the tripod headstand the hands are on the floor creating a triangle with the head. In this version it is easier to overload the front of the shoulders and “muscle it”. Despite that being not ideal a few practitioners find tripod easier for that reason.
3. Is a headstand harder than a handstand?
You bet… The reasons that make handstands multiple times harder are:
1 The centre of mass is higher,
2 The base is smaller,
3 the shoulders are freer to move and that increases instability,
4 the wrists are loaded more and
5 getting into position is a lot harder.
Equally forearm stand is harder than headstand.
4. How long should I hold a headstand?
A good initial goal to set for a straight line headstand is 2mins. Inability to hold for that long usually indicates that your alignment is compromised.
5. How can I improve my headstand practice?
Once you are able to hold a headstand for ~ 1min you can start working on headstand variations. That will help you solidify your headstand practice. The progressions I suggest are in the following order:
1 Perform the 3 main leg variations and traditions between them,
2 Move your hands, initially between tripod and the supported version,
3 Transition from and into crow and forearm stand.
6. Is it good to do headstand everyday?
If headstand is the most advanced inversion you can perform yes. If you can practice other inversions it will be better use of your time to practice those. Practice of more advanced inversions is usually sufficient to help you maintain your headstand skills.
7. Is headstand an advanced pose?
Whether it is an advanced pose or not depends on your starting position. Some yoga students will take years to get comfortable in a headstand. At the same time I had students of no particular physical capabilities able to headstand on their own in their first yoga class. Was it advanced for them? Probably not. What matters is where your practice is and what you want to achieve. The greatest benefits come from practicing things we are not comfortable with.
The analytical minds
8. How do I properly set up my headstand position?
The top of the head should be on the floor. As some students have an egg shaped head the top of the head may hurt a bit in which case they can double the yoga mat for extra cushion. If you put too much padding underneath your head it will make the headstand unstable.
At no cost should you not place the front part of the head on the floor or the hands underneath the head. The former is likely going to put pressure on your neck and the latter will create dependency on the hands which will be hard to break. After all it is called headstand because the head is on the floor. It is not called head-on-handstand…
9. How do I balance in a headstand?
The balance in a headstand will be achieved (similar to all inversions) by keeping your centre of mass above your base. Three things that will help you achieve that are:
1 Set the top of your head on the floor, and keep most of the weight on your head (as opposed to your hands)
2 Keep your scapula in depression and shoulders in external rotation
3 Keep your mid section stable. The abdominal naval in manoeuvre is likely to help you achieve that.
10. What muscles do headstands strengthen?
In headstand you will strengthen your neuro-connections with your shoulder joint. The strength demands for the shoulders and abdominals are minimal in this pose. If you feel tired in these muscle groups during a headstand practice chances are your alignment is compromised.
11. Do I need to warm up before headstand?
If you are new to the practice you may want to warm up your shoulders and stretch your hamstrings. For tripod you can also warm up your wrists. Students familiar with the pose will not need any warm up.
The scared ones
12. What are some modifications or variations for beginners or those with injuries?
If you are looking for modifications chances are you are experiencing pain in a joint, which indicates that your technique is wrong to begin with. Good technique is appropriate for beginners and those with injuries.
13. What are common mistakes to avoid when doing headstands?
Instead of thinking of what to avoid it is easier to think what you should aim for. In a well aligned headstand should:
1 Feel light (ie. have minimal weight on your hands, if in a tripod)
2 Hold still for a few minutes
3 Breathe in a controlled, soft way.
14. Why do headstands hurt so much?
If you are experiencing pain it’s because you are doing something wrong. There are 5 areas students often experience pain in a headstand. All of them can be avoided if the right technique is followed.
15. How do you protect your neck in a headstand?
Your neck will be protected if you maintain your scapula depressed. To achieve that shoulders in external rotation will also be useful. Finally you should ensure that you keep the top (and not the front) of the head on the floor.
16. Can you injure yourself doing a headstand?
You can get injured if the correct technique is not followed. A step by step approach and avoiding the use of the wall will minimise the chances of hurting yourself. A first sign that you are not following the correct technique is if you experience pain.