The “basic” bound headstand (Baddha hasta sirsasana A) and basic free hand headstand (more commonly known as tripod headstand or Mukta hasta sirsasana A) are pretty well known, but they each have several interesting and harder variations. The core shape is the same, but the position of the arms and legs changes.
The advanced variations become available once you’ve mastered those two – and I mean really master! They have to feel easy, not just comfortable. The harder variations can put a lot more pressure on your neck, and this isn’t the place to take risks.
And another disclaimer: I am not a yoga teacher, this is based on my personal experience and research, so take it with a grain of salt.
Bound hand headstand| Baddha hasta sirsasana
For this category, arms are usually clasped and elbows on the floor. They are roughly ordered by difficulty, although your mileage may vary. Weight should mostly be carried by the arms, not the head and neck (one of my teachers used to say that someone should be able to remove a piece of paper from under your head while you’re in the pose). As mentioned before, it’s wise to start by getting comfortable in A, then gradually attempting the next ones. I can do B (although I still prefer a wall nearby) and I’m working on C. Currently I can get up with a little momentum, but can’t hold a tuck in it.
- A: Supported headstand | Salamba sirsasana, or also just called Sirsasana : forearms are one the floor forming part of a triangle, hands are clasped and supporting the head
- B: arms clasped in front of the head
- C: arms like in pincha, but head on the floor
- D: hands on shoulders/neck (be especially careful with this one)
Free hand headstand | Mukta hasta sirsasana
In free hand headstand, hands are on the floor separate and further away from the head. Elbows are in the air. Sometimes, this can feel easier for people since it can provide a wider base than bound hand headstand. However, it can also often cause more pressure on the neck if done improperly. Most of the weight should be in the hands, but some will have to be on the head and neck.
- A: tripod headstand, pretty well known, as in the image above
- B: hands in front
- C: hands wide; extreme example in the image below
- D: I don’t know if this is an official pose, but I have seen it in a few places: tripod with the hands pointed in the reverse direction (harder than it sounds…)
Apart from varying the hand and arm positions, you can also move the legs. These are more playful and modern variations and might not have traditional sanskrit names and background. So imagination is the limit here: stag legs, splits, and bound legs such as lotus are common.
Anything that still has your center of gravity in the middle shouldn’t feel signifiantly harder than legs straight up. A way to intensify it is to shift the center by tilting your hips and moving your legs closer towards horizontal. Holding that inverse L shape will require more core strength. You can work up to it by holding the diagonal and more and more intense angles. This is sometimes called L-stand pose / Upward Facing Staff Pose / Half Headstand, or Ardha Sirsasana.