One of the many joys of advancing in a yoga practice is the ability to tackle more challenging poses. Turning your world upside down in Headstand is one of those show-off moves that is really about your surrender to your practice, not your athletic prowess. Headstand is both humbling and exhilarating -- it can bring up paralyzing fears, point up areas where you need more work and send a jolt of renewed vitality from your head to your toes.
A yoga Headstand can change your point of view, your mood and your bone density. Yoga teacher and studio owner Cyndi Lee lists the many benefits assigned to the pose known as the "king" of yoga postures. Headstand promotes chemical as well as physical balance. It triggers the pineal and pituitary glands, increases melatonin and serotonin, which leads to improved sleep, lower stress and happier mood, and boosts mental clarity and concentration. The pose enhances lower-body circulation and increases drainage in the lymph system. "Yoga Journal" adds that Headstand builds bone and muscle in the arms, shoulders, legs and spine, improves lung capacity and digestion, tones your abdominal organs and relieves fatigue in your aching back and legs.
How to Headstand
Headstand is really simple but it can takes years of preparation to develop the physical strength to perform it properly. Rushing into Headstand is risky so work up to it with a certified instructor to prevent poor posture or injury. The American Council on Exercise says to position the crown of your head on the floor 2 inches from a wall. Link your fingers and cup your hands around the back of your head, forearms flat on the floor -- this is your support base. Now tuck your toes under and raise your hips into Dolphin pose as you extend your legs. Walk your feet up until your hips are over your shoulders, tighten your core, bring your knees in to your chest and push your legs upward with control, pressing into the floor with your forearms. Never let your body weight rest on your head.
Fear of Falling
If the thought of upending yourself makes you nervous, conquer your fears with adequate preparation. Train for Headstand by focusing on opening and building strength in your shoulders, upper back and arms with asanas like Plank and Four-Limbed Staff pose. Master more modest inversions like Downward-Facing Dog and Supported Shoulder Stand, and increase your concentration with attention to yoga breathing and meditation. Your abs, quads, hamstrings and glutes are extremely important in allowing you to unfold your legs upward with control and remain stable in the pose. If you are "kicking up" into Headstand, your core isn't strong enough yet to do its job. Once you have the strength and balance, begin with just 30 seconds or a minute in the full inversion. Don't hang out in the pose and risk injury to your spine and neck.
Headstand is not a competitive sports maneuver and you can injure yourself by attempting it without adequate preparation and an experienced teacher. The pose takes extra strength in your shoulders and upper body to safely bear your entire weight without compressing the delicate bones and muscles in your neck. Alignment is critical to distributing weight -- a teacher can adjust your posture and provide feedback about assuming and releasing the pose correctly. Avoid Headstand if you have high blood pressure, glaucoma, retinal deterioration, compressed cervical disks or other back and neck problems. Scoliosis, osteoporosis and pregnancy may rule out Headstand. Consult your health care provider and consider substituting a gentle, supported Viparita Karani, Legs-Up-the-Wall pose, instead.
Benna Crawford has been a journalist and New York-based writer since 1997. Her work has appeared in USA Today, the San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, and in professional journals and trade publications. Crawford has a degree in theater, is a certified Prana Yoga instructor, and writes about fitness, performing and decorative arts, culture, sports, business and education .