Three Ways In
Headstand is a powerful pose, typically referred to as the King of the Yoga Asanas (poses). While the gurus and masters have long been preaching the importance of headstand, modern day anatomist often caution against it. Physically speaking my personal relationship with headstand has been mostly positive, while emotionally there were a couple years of fear around the potential risks. The warnings of many of my teachers, in addition to neck and shoulder pain eventually turned me away from practicing the pose. In recent years I finally discovered the root cause of my neck pain had very little to do with my neck itself and everything to do with an imbalance in one of my rotator cuff muscles causing referral pain. The reason I feel this is important to mention is because when we are in pain we can be so quick to blame that we might miss what is really going on. We see it all the time in modern medicine. Instead searching for the root cause of our problem we focus on the symptom. Let me be clear here, I am not saying if you have neck pain you should do Headstand, I am simply stressing the importance of searching for the root of the pain. Dig deep, keep an open mind, and explore.
Beginners: Preparatory Strength and Technique
- Shoulder Strength: From the moment you begin your yoga practice you are likely building shoulder
strength. If your desire is to move toward headstand, I suggest building strength specific to having your arms over head and in front of you. Downward Dog, Arm Balances, Handstand preparations, Dolphin Pose are all great poses to start off with.
- Back Body, Spine Strength: Developing the muscles along the back body and spine will help to stabilize your head, torso and legs when you are ready to work toward headstand.
- Neck Strength: Neck strength can be built in preparation. I recommend doing standing yoga postures with hands behind the head, and pressing the head back into the hands. This will also help set the head back which can lead to more optimal alignment of the spine when in headstand, as well as in daily life.
Benefits of The 3 Approaches
The 3 Approaches
- Half Tuck: The Half tuck teaches the shifting of weight from the feet to the head and arms while not demanding as much body awareness and hamstring flexibility. The first step is simply learning how to point the foot that is on the ground in order to shift your weight. In the video I use a block as a method to get around tight hamstrings. You may stack more than one block so long as you feel stable. The second part of this is to tuck your second leg into your body and balance in a “tuck” position. This may be highly challenging, but keeping your legs in a tuck has the benefit of being low to the ground. Lower center of gravity is easier to balance and therefor can be a safer place to learn balance. I would personally say that while there is always a risk when balancing upside down, the risk is less than full headstand.
- Full Tuck: One you find repeated success with the tuck position and feel comfortable holding it for more than a minute you might try coming straight into a tuck position rather than one leg at a time. This is more challenging on many levels but mostly it requires greater flexibility in the hamstrings, and a stronger sense of proprioception (knowing where your body is in space). If this entrance is feeling great, the second aspect of it is to start extending at the hip joint, bringing your knees upward. How high up to bring the knees will depend on your level of comfort and balance.
- Straight Leg Press: Going Straight into a headstand through what is called a pike position in gymnastic and acrobatic language, is definitely the most challenging. it requires tremendous body awareness, low back and buttock strength. It requires that the hamstrings are both flexible and strong. I highly recommend getting comfortably tucking all the way up and being able to hold a straight headstand for over a minute prior to attempting this.