A headstand can be a difficult pose to master. But with patience and practice, you can get yourself upside down without toppling over. Here’s how to do a headstand for beginners.
For many yoga practitioners, the headstand is the holy grail of poses. Also known as Salamba Sirsasana, the headstand is the ultimate expression of posture, focus, and balance. It’s also hella daunting if you’re a yoga newbie.
Getting completely upside down — and staying there — doesn’t exactly come naturally for most of us. Still, the headstand is a pose worth mastering, since it comes with plenty of health benefits (not to mention bragging rights).
In this article, we’ll walk you through how to do a headstand and explain the many upsides of this full-body inversion.
A headstand is a pose to work up to, not one you’re likely to master on the first try. Before you attempt a headstand, you may want to get comfortable with other preliminary poses like Downward-Facing Dog, Dolphin, and Tripod Dolphin (which inverts the body into a tripod headstand without lifting the legs).
When you’re ready to take things to the next level, follow these steps:
- Place your yoga mat lengthwise next to a wall.
- Facing the wall, get on all fours with hands shoulder-width apart and knees hip-width apart.
- Come down onto the mat on your forearms and interlace your fingers, keeping your thumbs pointed up toward the ceiling. Your hands and elbows should form a “V” shape and should be a few inches from the wall.
- Place the crown of your head gently down between your hands. Tuck your chin in toward your chest.
- Lift your knees and hips, straighten your legs, and come onto your tiptoes. (Your lower half will look like it’s in Downward-Facing Dog.)
- Walk your feet forward until your torso is in a straight, vertical position.
- Tense your core, lift your feet, and bend your knees toward your chest. Hold here for a moment to establish stability.
- Slowly raise your legs, extending them long toward the ceiling.
Depending on who you ask, headstands might help with everything from relieving menopause symptoms to regrowing lost hair. While each person may experience something different from accomplishing this pose, here are some dope headstand benefits:
- Strengthens multiple muscle groups: “Doing a headstand helps strengthen the core, spine, upper body, and legs, when done properly,” says yoga teacher Caroline L. Young, MS, RD, LD, RYT.
- Stimulates the lymphatic system: Inversions have long been used to promote lymphatic drainage. A 2021 review found that yoga (including headstands) could help manage lymphedema in breast cancer survivors.
- May help relieve headaches: A yoga practice, in general, has been linked to fewer headaches, and some people find headstands either relieve headache pain or stop head pain from getting worse.
- Might provide mental clarity: “Personally, I think headstands are amazing for increasing presence and invigoration,” Young says. “If I am in a funk and I do a headstand, I feel at least a little better (if not entirely!) afterward. It’s an opportunity to turn your world upside down for a bit.”
Let’s face it. Salamba Sirsasana is no Child’s pose. Fortunately, there are ways to make this challenging inversion a little less arduous.
For starters, be sure you’re thoroughly warmed up before going bottoms-up.
“To work up to a headstand, I recommend including warm-ups and/or yoga sequences that engage, stretch and strengthen the core, arms, and shoulders on a regular basis,” Young says.
From there, experiment with other similar poses that prep your body and mind for the Real Thing. Young suggests starting with Rabbit Pose or Dolphin Pose as introductory inversions. Play around with lifting one leg out of these positions to test your balance.
To get used to being fully upside down, you can even go partway through the steps toward the headstand and just hang out there for a while. For example, once your arms and head are in position, simply raising your legs off the ground one at a time will train your muscle memory in the direction of this pose.
Another critical element for headstands or any balancing posture: Find a Drishti, or focus point, on which to laser your vision. This helps increase concentration, drawing your focus to the pose, rather than what’s going on around you.
Don’t be shy about incorporating props, either! Some people find layering blankets under their arms provide much-needed stability — or blankets under the head provide cushioning. If you’ve got some cash to spare, you can even purchase a yoga headstand bench. (We promise, it only looks like a torture device.)
And of course, don’t forget the handy-dandy wall as the ultimate prop for headstand practice. “The wall will give you a feeling of security and provide a safety net of sorts for your legs,” Young says. You can also enlist a friend to spot you as you prepare for liftoff.
There’s no single perfect way to maneuver yourself into a headstand — so some trial and error will probably be involved as you work up to it. That said, Young says she often sees yogis falling (sometimes literally) into the same mistakes.
“The most common mistake I see people make is trying to get into the full expression right away, which is usually before they are properly warmed up and ready,” she says. “It takes time and practice to work up to a headstand, so I let my students know that it is a process and it is best to focus on little steps instead of getting to the endpoint (the headstand).”
Besides working your way up to a headstand gradually, try saving it for the end of your practice when your body is more warmed up.
When you do go for the pose, Young says good form is key.
“Another mistake that happens often is putting too much pressure on the head, which can hurt, cause neck strain, and lead to other issues over time,” she says. “Instead, weight needs to be distributed so that most of it is on the arms and shoulders instead of the neck.”
You might also need to get the all-clear from your doctor before diving in. Some people shouldn’t attempt headstands. If you’re pregnant, have high blood pressure, or live with a spine condition, your healthcare professional may tell you this is one pose you’ll have to skip. One systematic review also found that people with glaucoma or musculoskeletal disorders should avoid headstands.
Finally, Young recommends being kind to yourself and your body. The heart and soul of yoga are acceptance and present-moment awareness. Beating yourself up over not achieving a pose isn’t part of that gentle framework.
Just like you wouldn’t expect to win the Tour de France on your first go-round on a bike, remember that achieving a headstand is a yogic effort that may take some time. Yoga is a journey on which there’s no pre-set road map — so go at your own pace as you follow the steps toward expert-level inversion.