Benefits of headstands:
- Strengthens and tones limbs
- Develops core muscles
- Reduces water retention/swelling in lower limbs
- Flushes nutrients and oxygen to the head and face
- Enhances overall cardiac output due to improved pulse rate and stroke volume
Looking at the classic preparatory headstand stance; both hands clasped, forearms grounded, top of head placed on the mat with hips lifted up and feet walking in, it is a rather intimidating sight. Truth be told, the preparation to manoeuvre into a headstand is a lot tougher and more tiring than the actual pose itself. This is probably one of the main factors as to why so many yoga practitioners simply aim to “jump” their way straight into the inversion.
In this instance, I would suggest going slowly but steadily. because safety should be of utmost priority during practice, not mastering the poses on your first few tries.
NOTE: NEVER neglect your pre-headstand warm-up. The time taken to get your shoulders, spine and neck stretched might very well be your first defence against injury. So here are some warm-up exercises to get those shoulders opened and to lengthen your neck and spine before attempting a headstand.
1) Start off in Tadasana (Mountain pose)
A headstand is all about physics. Your body has to be in a straight line with your legs engaged, tailbone pointed downwards, spine lengthened and shoulders rolled back and away from your ears to prevent any compression at the cervical region.
Engage your all four limbs, your glutes and core muscles while in this pose. Stay here for 10 breaths; feel and remember this body alignment. A headstand is basically an inverted Tadasana.
2) Gomukhasana (arms only)
Stand with both legs hips-distance apart then bend your left arm at the elbow to reach to your back. Right arm bends at the elbow and reaches above the right shoulder to reach the left hand (use strap if necessary). Hold here for 10 breaths for each side.
This exercise not only helps to open up your shoulders, it also assists in depressing both scapulae in preparation for the headstand.
3) Garudasana (arms only)
Maintain hip-width distance between both feet. Place left arm beneath the right arm and twist it into eagle arms. Repeat with right arm under left arm and remain in this pose for 10 breaths per side. Legs remain engaged and spine is straight.
Eagle arms help to release any knots in the shoulders and warms up the wrists.
4) Uttanasana variation
Extend both arms behind and interlace fingers. As you fold forward into Uttanasana, lift both arms up hight and reach as far over the crown of your head as possible (similar to Prasarita Padhottanasana C, but with legs hip width apart). Stay here for 10 slow counts; continue to keep spine lengthened and try not to bend the knees. After that, come up slowly, vertebrae by vertebrae.
5) Ardha Pincha Mayurasana (Dolphine pose)
Come down to both knees, tuck your toes under your feet and clasp both hands in front of you. Place both arms on the mat with elbows approximately 1 forearm’s length apart. Shoulders remain away from your ears. Take a deep inhale and as you exhale, left your knees off the mat by lifting your hips up towards the ceiling and planting your heels into the mat. Engage both arms by pressing forearms against the mat. Shoulders remain depressed, neck and spine are lengthened. Take 10 slow breaths here.
Once more, remember how your forearms, shoulders and neck feel whilst in this pose. This is how it will be like in Salamba Sirasana. The weight of your body is on your upper limbs; there is NO pressure on your neck whatsoever.
Now you are all set to do your headstand!
With both arms maintained at the same position during dolphin pose, place the crown of your head in between your palms and walk both legs forward until your hips are in line with your spine. Lift up your dominant leg with toes pointed to the ceiling; use this leg as the fulcrum to assist in lifting your other leg up. And there you have it, Salami Sirasana scored!
- Neck, shoulders, spine and hips have to be in a straight line.
- The entire body is engaged while in the pose
- Your neck should not be compressed
- Lift your hips up, do not jump!
Try a headstand today, but be safe while doing so. Good Luck! 😀
Kimberly L. (August 2017, 200hr YTT)