Sirsasana or headstand is sometimes also called the king of poses in yoga. It’s important to do it with strength and stability, instead of balancing precariously and putting too much weight into your neck and head. Despite its name, most of the weight should actually be in your arms. Some ashtanga teachers test that by sliding a sheet of paper under your head while you’re performing headstand.
This is also why I wouldn’t bother doing headstand against a wall. That won’t really help you towards being able to do it in the middle of the room. I would also avoid any kicking up. Instead you should use your strength to simply lift, once you are able to. That way the risk of falling and hurting yourself is much lower.
In my opinion, headstand is best learned in stages. As always it’s helpful to have a teacher around who can spot you while you’re still learning. If you find yourself falling over, round your back, tuck your chin into your chest, and roll out of it it. You can even practice that separately before trying headstand to get used to the feeling.
Step by Step
Starting from a kneeling position, place your elbows on the floor. Grab each elbow with the opposite hand to get the right distance. Interlace your fingers lightly in front to make a cradle for your head. Then place the top of your head between your hands, so you look directly at the back of the room and your neck is straight.
Straighten your knees so you come into something similar to downward dog, and walk your feet closer to your head. If hamstring flexibility is an issue, you can bend your knees. Ideally your thighs should be practically touching your chest. Most of the weight should be in your arms now, and your feet should feel quite light. If this position feels difficult, just stay here and practice regularly, until it feels more comfortable.
Once you’re ready, lift one foot towards your bum. Once again, if you feel unbalanced or tired, keep the other foot on the floor and get used to this position. You can alternate feet to be even. Once you feel more stable, lift the other foot. It might just be a little bit at first, but eventually you want to have both your feet together and knees tucked into your chest.
Try to stay the above position for 10 seconds. (For perspective, this took me months to get right; your mileage may vary.) Once you can do that, you should be ready to start straightening your legs into the air. Straighten them slowly and steadily. This can feel a little bit scary. Especially at this stage, it’s nice to have someone standing next to you and checking your form. For instance, you might be leaning your legs forward to avoid falling backward and unintentionally making things harder for yourself.
Headstand should feel stable and relatively comfortable – in ashtanga you typically stay in the pose for 25 breaths. Once you come out, take child’s pose (balasana).
- going up and coming down with straight legs (including pausing with legs parallel to the floor)
- tripod headstand – for many people, easier to get into, but will put some pressure on your head & neck
- different hand positions (see ashtanga second/intermediate series for reference: mukha hasta sirsasana, baddha hasta sirsasana)
- putting legs in lotus, or other positions