Do you have a mini panic attack when your yoga instructor says it's time to work on Headstands? Whether you've tried inversions a hundred times and can't stay balanced for more than half a second or are too intimidated to even try, here are five reasons Headstands aren't happening for you and how to get started hanging upside down.
You're Scared of Falling
This is a very real fear and a valid reason for not even attempting Headstand, but how will you know whether or not you can balance upside down if you never give it a chance? There are many ways you can do a Headstand and avoid the risk of falling. Try one of these: do Headstand in front of a wall, have someone spot you, slowly lift into Headstand instead of kicking up, or start with a Bound Headstand Prep where your feet never leave the ground (it's still a Headstand if you're balancing on your head!).
Your Base Is Unstable
Whether you're doing Bound Headstand (shown in the photo above) or Tripod Headstand with your palms on the ground, your base needs to be strong and stable in order to support the weight of the rest of your body. In Bound Headstand, make sure the heels of your palms are pressed against the back of your head, and your elbows are a few inches away from your ears. In Tripod Headstand, keep your elbows at 90-degree angles. A strong base is the first step in building up to Headstand.
Your Upper Body Is Weak
Although Headstand takes a strong sense of balance, a strong upper body is also essential. If you feel like your upper body is weak, you won't be able to create and hold your stable base. Tone up those biceps, triceps, shoulders, and the muscles in your upper back by doing upper-body sculpting poses, and throw in some of push-up variations.
Upper-Body Sculpting Poses:
:: Three Legged Dog
:: Sage Pose
:: Crow Pose
:: Wheel Pose
:: Bound Headstand
:: Forearm Stand
Slowly lifting into Headstand rather than jumping into it will help prevent falling, since the momentum of your flailing legs tends to make you lose your balance. And although getting into Headstand this way is much safer, since you're moving slowly, it takes a whole lot of core strength. Start in the Bound Headstand Prep position, with your legs straight and your feet on the floor. Try bending your knees into your chest in the Tuck position, and eventually you will be able to lift your legs straight into the air. If your midsection isn't strong enough yet, practice Boat pose and scissor abs to target your core. Try these five core strengthening yoga poses too.
Your Alignment Is Off
From the photo above, you can see that your hips should be stacked over your shoulders, and your feet stacked over your hips. If your torso isn't in a straight line with your abs engaged, it will be impossible to balance, even with a strong base. Ask your yoga instructor to watch you do Headstand so they can help you get your alignment right.
Headstand is really intimidating if you've never attempted it before, but if you've always longed to stand on you head, here's a series of yoga poses to get you there. Don't worry if it scares you to go upside down. This sequence will build up your strength and courage. If you practice these poses regularly in this order, you'll feel ready (and excited!) to invert.
Wide-Legged Forward Bend
Walking into headstand instead of jumping into it not only prevents you from kicking too hard and falling over, but it also strengthens your core. Flexible hamstrings are key to walking into headstand, so start with this Wide-Legged Forward Bend. This pose will also open your shoulders.
Stand with three to four feet between your feet. Turn your toes in slightly and interlace your fingers in a double fist behind your back. Inhale to engage your abs and pull your hands away from your shoulders. Exhale to fold at your hips, keeping your legs and spine straight. Hold for five deep breaths, trying to lower your hands toward the floor.
Walking into headstand also requires strong abs. This pose is all about your core. Sit on the floor, bend your knees, and pick your feet off the floor. Sit with a straight spine and straighten your legs as much as you can before your back begins to round. Extend your arms out in front and hold for five deep breaths.
This pose will strengthen your core as well as your upper body.
From Down Dog, lower onto your forearms and walk your feet out. Your body should be in one straight line with your shoulders directly above your elbows. Hold like this for five breaths, but if it's too difficult, lower one or both knees to the floor.
Tripod Headstand Prep
Now you're ready to try the easiest version of headstand. Since your hands and head are on the floor, the greater surface area helps you stay balanced. If it hurts your head, fold your mat up, making sure your head and hands are on the same thickness of mat.
Sit on your knees and place your head and hands on the mat. Your hands should be directly underneath your elbows, not in line with your head. If you're doing it right, you should be able to see your hands in front of you. Straighten your legs and place your right knee on your right tricep and do the same with your left knee. Bring your feet together. Hold here for five deep breaths. If you're feeling ready, start to use your abs to lift your knees off your arms. Lift a few inches, and then lower them back to your triceps — this is a killer move for your core.
Bound Headstand Prep: Straight Legs
Now you're ready to learn the prep poses for Bound Headstand.
Come to sit so your back is a few inches away from a wall. Interlace your fingers and tuck your bottom pinky in front. Place your hands and the top of your head on the floor so your palms are cupping the back of your head. Lift your knees off the floor and straighten your legs. Walk them toward your face as much as you can, trying to shift the weight of your hips over your shoulders. Hold here for five deep breaths.
Bound Headstand Prep: One Knee Tuck
Now you're ready for the next challenge. From that position, bend one knee and tuck it into your chest. Hold for five breaths and then switch sides.
Bound Headstand Prep: Tuck
This prep pose will really strengthen your core and upper body.
From the last position with one knee bent, try shifting your hips even further over your shoulders so the toes on the floor begin to lift off the mat. Bend that knee, tucking both knees into your chest, and hold for five breaths. To challenge your core, practice lifting your knees a few inches and then lowering them. At this time, if you feel ready to lift both legs up into Bound Headstand, go for it. If not, continue reading for the next step.
Bound Headstand Against a Wall
Using a wall gives you the support you need to work on headstand without the fear of falling.
From the previous position with both legs straight and your feet on the floor, step both feet onto the wall, walking them up so your thighs are parallel with the floor. Keep your legs straight to increase flexibility in your hamstrings and lower back, and draw your navel toward your spine to work your abs. Holding here for five breaths will allow your upper body to feel what it's like to hold headstand. This pose might look easy, but you'll really feel your upper body burning after holding for a while, which is exactly what you want.
One-Legged Bound Headstand Against a Wall
Here's a one-legged version against the wall that will further strengthen your upper body and open tight hamstrings. With both feet on the wall, slowly lift one leg into the air, keeping the other foot pressing against the wall. Be careful not to lift your leg past your head or you might lose your balance. Hold here for five breaths, lower your top leg, and then switch.