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Five tips for the perfect headstand and what not to do

Posted on October 20, 2015

I got into my first assisted headstand on Friday 20th February 2015 at the age of 29. Yes, it was such a big moment in my life, that I can actually remember the date…. and I think it was approximately at around 7:48am! I was over the moon and absolutely stunned at my progress – it was something that I didn’t think my body would ever be capable of doing.

February 2015

February 2015

This post is about my first headstand attempts and how I’ve progressed over the last eight months. I want to share everything I’ve experienced with this pose to help you achieve your upside-down goals too.

What was I doing leading up to this?

Yoga for two hours a week and circuit training between 2-3 times per week. Some circuits would include some form of weights like kettlebells or sandbags so I had relatively decent strength through my arms and shoulders.

Can anyone do a headstand?

If your body is in good physical health and you have trained and developed the necessary strength in the correct muscles you’ll be capable of achieving a headstand. It’s also really important that you understand how to correctly position yourself in to the pose – keeping your neck and spine safe is so important.

Are there any poses I can try in preparation for headstand?

Alignment is key, so nailing a perfect standing mountain pose is the perfect place to start. When you go upside down you should be mirroring the same alignment.

Dolphin pose will provide you with a super foundation for headstand. It will help you build lots of strength in your shoulders, forearms, wrists and core. As you start to feel stronger in dolphin you can start to explore shifting your weight forwards so more of your body weight is loaded on to your shoulders and you really start to engage your core. As you begin to get stronger you will be able to start lifting your toes and feet off the ground and test how stable you feel before progressing to gently lifting your legs up.

A video of my second attempt in headstand 

I thought it would be really helpful to share a video of me doing this pose (my second attempt) and then point out all the things I am doing incorrectly to help prevent you making similar mistakes to me.

When I watch this video now it really makes me cringe and I automatically hold my neck and squeal a little bit.

So here’s what I’m doing wrong……

  1. I’m trying to hop up but my legs are too far away. I should have brought them closer to my chest before lifting.
  2. I should have taken a little breather. Instead of continually trying to hop up. You can see I am being very impatient. Putting myself into child’s pose and taking some nice deep tummy breaths would have given my body the space to relax.
  3. My head positioning isn’t quite right. I should have had the front of my head placed closer to the ground. This becomes clear, as I roll back onto the back of my head before toppling.
  4. I’m relying on my head to keep me stable and not my shoulders, forearms and wrists. This is not a good idea as it puts a lot of pressure through your neck. As I bring my legs up my weight distribution falls back onto my head and neck and not through my shoulders and arms. You can see I’m swaying backwards.
  5. I didn’t take my time. Breathing through a pose is vital for its development and your practice. I’m not breathing here, I’m only tuned in to my adrenaline from getting into headstand a few moments before I decided to film my next attempt.
  6. I’m not engaging my core. In any inversion you need to pull everything in and everything up to the ceiling.
  7. I didn’t have a spotter. Although I felt confident in my new-found ability I should have asked a friend to be just beside me in case I did start to topple – which I did. I could have done myself a very nasty neck injury.
April 2015

April 2015

My headstand tips

1. Activate all of the key muscle groups to make this pose happen 

What I have learned from Chris is that you’ll get the most out of poses if you don’t leak energy – every part of your body plays some role in helping you hold the pose. If you’re not connected then you’ll struggle to transition into the pose and get the most out of it. So if you have a weakness somewhere in your body, then other areas will have to work extra hard to keep you stable. Holistic strengthening through regular yoga practice will help you to condition and tone all of your muscles.

When learning an advanced pose like headstand make sure you get advice or research on what muscles you need to use.

2. Build your muscle memory

Muscle memory and patterning is also super important. In yoga there is always a preparatory pose you can try. As you build strength, flexibility and confidence in these poses your body will naturally find the right moment to advance. Before  progressing to headstand I spent a lot of time working through dolphin pose and downward facing dog. Forearm and shoulder strength is vital for headstand.

3. Create a solid foundation

For headstand you need to think about lifting your whole body up and grounding yourself into the floor at the same time. You need to really ground your elbows into the floor to protect your head, neck and give your body a stable foundation. Not only is this important physically but feeling stable will help you to build confidence; fear of falling or toppling in headstand affects so many of us and can become a barrier to us believing we will ever be capable.

June 2015

June 2015

4. Take it slow

What’s the rush? You have to respect your body if you want to achieve incredible things. Your body is your best friend, look after it, nourish it, massage it, thank it, rest it and most importantly think positive thoughts. Your body is listening and responding to everything you say.

5. Switch off your ego

As soon as I had got into headstand I wanted to go straight back into it – I was desperate and obviously ridiculously excited! Looking back I wish I had respected my body and given it a well-deserved rest, instead I locked into my ego – I wanted to get a picture and post it up on Instagram telling everyone how chuffed I was with myself. Instagram is fantastic for sharing your progress, picking up tips and sourcing inspiration but it shouldn’t come as a risk to your health.

For more technical tips on headstands I really rate the Yoga Journal tutorial. This headstand walk through is brilliant. 

August 2015 - with Laura

August 2015 – with Laura

Keep going with your yoga practice – you’ll find that no day is ever the same; your body will always be adapting. One day you’ll struggle with headstand, but in three months time you’ll be able to go upside down on command.

Yoga isn’t about being a performing circus seal, it’s about building a bond with your body. Your body is where you live and so yoga helps you to gently and day-by-day, strengthen the foundations of your life-long home.

Once you feel comfortable in headstand start exploring different variations in your own time. Start moving the legs into straddle, pike, frog and eagle pose. This will keep your practice fresh and identify any areas of your body that you need to give some extra love too. For me it is always my hips. Rather than shying away from them I give them more attention, and do at least two focused hip opening yoga flows a week as part of my daily practice. If you’re not sure where to start there are some excellent sessions on YouTube.

October 2015

October 2015

My biggest tip to you is to keep talking to your body positively and out loud! Say thank you, say well done, congratulate it, squeeze, kiss it, hug it – every single day.  Treat it like your best friend and it will reward you with the magnificent moments and a long and happy life.

Let me know if you have any questions and good luck with your headstand practice.

Namaste x

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