Do & Don'ts of Sirsasana

If not done properly, headstand can be one of yoga's more dangerous poses.
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Sirsasana, or headstand, is sometimes called the king of yoga poses. But it is also one of the easiest in which to hurt yourself. If you’re not careful, too much weight is placed on the head, compacting the vertebrae in your neck. This is a pose to learn slowly and carefully under the supervision of a qualified teacher.

Start with Half Headstand

Starting in half headstand is a good way to gauge the load you’re putting on your neck. Fold your yoga mat in thirds or use a blanket to cushion the head. Kneel in front of the mat or blanket. Rest your forearms on this padding, elbows shoulder-distance apart. Interlace your fingers with one pinky inside the other. Put the top of your head on the floor so that the back of your head touches your cupped hands. Now experiment with head pressure by pressing down through your forearms. Notice that the more you press, the more you’ll feel it in the shoulders and the less in the head and neck. If this feels okay so far, you can straighten the legs and raise the hips, so that the lower body is in the shape of downward dog. Keep pressing through the forearms to minimize pressure on the head. This is half headstand.

Progressing the Headstand

If and when the half headstand becomes easy, you can progress to lifting your legs. It’s best to do this against a wall, in case you go over. Set up your half headstand with your head close to the wall. Then use your abdominals to lift one leg. Keep pressing through the forearms, remembering to keep pressure on the head and neck as light as possible. Beginners tend to kick their legs up in their efforts to invert. But flailing your legs is dangerous for your neck and can strain your low back. Learning headstand requires patience. Eventually you may get both legs up against the wall. To balance, you must engage your core muscles, press through the forearms and reach up through the balls of the feet, keeping the thighs pressing toward the midline of the body.

Traditional Benefits, Dos and Don’ts

Traditional yoga calls for a shoulderstand to counterbalance your headstand.

Yoga texts claim many benefits to headstand and other inverted poses. Most of these have not been scientifically verified, and yoga texts generally don’t give much evidence for these claims, but they are often repeated in yoga classes. According to Srivatsa Ramaswami, author of "Yoga for the Three Stages of Life," headstand should only be done in the morning, and should be followed for an equal time by shoulderstand. Ramaswami, and many other yogis, claim that gravity and increased blood flow to the head benefit the brain, aiding memory and increasing the intellect. The pose is also meant to slow the breathing, giving a sedative effect that might cure insomnia. Famed yogi BKS Iyengar claims headstand can ease tonsillitis, bad breath and constipation. However, headstand is not for people with high or low blood pressure or retinal problems.


In large classes, it can be hard to get the necessary personal attention.

Yoga traditionally was passed down from a teacher to a student on a one-on-one basis, and comes from a culture where people didn’t sit in an office for much of the day. Now great crowds of deconditioned people fill yoga classes at gyms and yoga studios, and teachers are unable to give as much personalized attention. This is a problem for riskier poses. Headstand can cause nerve compression in the neck, retinal tears and even degenerative arthritis in the neck if the pose is done incorrectly or held for too long, according to Dr. Timothy McCall, Yoga Journal’s medical editor. If you have neck, eye or blood pressure problems, skip this pose. There are plenty of others you can do instead. If you’re a beginner and in good health, tell your yoga teacher that you’ve never done headstand and ask for one-on-one guidance your first few times. If your teacher can’t or won’t provide the needed assistance, find another class.

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