Headstands are the kings of the yoga practice. They stimulate blood flow to the brain, they can help combat hair loss, they give you energy, and help you focus. Many people have a fear of going upside down, but with these easy steps you’ll feel comfortable and confident about inverting.
Start with dolphin pose or what I like to call yogi push-ups: Get on all fours, place your forearms on the floor and interlace your fingers to form a clasped fist. Pressing firmly in to your outer hands and forearms, tuck your toes under and press up in to a downward dog with the lower body. Lift your shoulders up away from your ears and engage your shoulder blades on to your back. Keep your abdominal muscles lifted in and up as you roll out to forearm plank and imagine you can tap your chin in front of your fists. Exhale, back to dolphin. Repeat the sequence 8 to 10 times. You can do these yogi push-ups every day to build strength and stamina in the core and shoulder girdle.
Now practice your egg shape. If you can hold egg, you can definitely come in to headstand. It’s better not to kick up but rather to control the lift with your abs—this move teaches you how to find that core strength. From Dolphin, walk your feet in closer to your hands, loosen your palms so there is a bit of space (as if you’re holding a tennis ball between your fists) and place the crown of your head at the base of your wrists. Keep the shoulder girdle locked in place, keep hollowing out your abs and walk your feet in as close as you can until you can prop your knees in your armpits. Imagine this like crow pose upside down; and use your lower abs to lift your feet off the floor until you’re in egg.
Once you feel confident in the egg shape, extend your legs straight up to the ceiling, coming in to a headstand. Keep pressing the shoulders up away from the ears and the forearms firmly in to the mat. Use your core and legs to steady you up above, and be careful not to sink into your lower back. You can always do this up against a wall, you will feel the lower back on the wall in your egg shape before sliding the legs up it. Then you can try and press your hips and lower back away from the wall and eventually your feet. I prefer doing it in the center of the room, though, because worse case scenario you somersault out of it and you’re getting used to doing it without the training wheels on. If you get too comfortable at the wall, eventually you have to take the training wheels off.
If your neck or lower back bothers you at all, come down from headstand immediately. You need to be able to support yourself with your core and upper body and through extending your legs. Go back to dolphin push-ups until you gain the strength to hold yourself up. Keep practicing and soon you’ll be going upside down regularly!
….or Tripod Headstand
You can also do this in tripod for a broader base—it might be easier to get into in the very beginning. Place your hands on the floor and your head about 10 inches in front of them. Bend your elbows and press your hips up into downward dog. Press into your hands and the top of your head and balance your knees on your elbows in tripod egg before extending your legs up to the ceiling. Once you get more advanced you can try lifting your legs straight up from the ground relying on your abs.
Kristin McGee is a leading yoga and Pilates instructor and healthy lifestyle expert based in New York City. She is an ACE certified personal trainer who regularly trains celebrity clients in New York and Los Angeles. She serves as Health’s contributing fitness editor and is frequently seen on national TV. Her latest in a large collection of fitness DVDs is YogaSlim. Follow her on Twitter @KristinMcGee and like her page on Facebook.