How to Do a Headstand

Safety First!

Yoga class doing headstands
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Headstand is a tricky pose to do correctly in yoga. Too many times, students are encouraged to fling themselves into it any old way, which is dangerous for beginners. A safer approach is to build the pose from the ground up, making sure that your alignment is good at each stop and that you have the strength to go to the next step.

You can use this approach near the wall for extra support, but don't let the proximity of the safety net get the better of you in the last stages. It's fine to stop at step 4, before you extend both legs. Feeling balanced and confident there is an important stepping stone to the full pose.

Set Up Your Arms for a Firm Foundation

Man kneeling on exercise mat, leaning forward, side view
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 1. Come to your hands and knees with the wrists underneath the shoulders and the knees underneath the hips.

2. Bring your forearms to the floor, keeping your elbows directly under your shoulders.

3. Clasp each hand around the opposite elbow to make sure that your elbows are the correct distance apart. Adjust accordingly if necessary.

4. Release the hands from your elbows. Clasp your hands together on the floor, interlacing your fingers. Tuck the pinky that ended up on the bottom into the basket of your hand so that it doesn't get squashed.

Place Your Head on the Floor

Yoga headstand prep
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1. Place the crown of your head on the floor. It's important to put the very top of the head down, neither too far forward to too far back.

2. Your hands don't really hold the skull. Rather, the back of your head rests at the bases of your thumbs.

Lift the Hips

Man bent over on exercise mat, performing headstand, side view
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1. Lift your hips and straighten your legs as if your were coming into downward facing dog.

2. Carefully walk your feet in towards your head until your hips as close to over your shoulders as possible.

Lift the Legs

2 Ways to Get Into a Yoga Headstand
Lifting the Legs Two Ways. Ian Hooton/ Science Photo Library/Getty Images John Freeman/Dorling Kindersley/Getty Images

Now we've come to to trickiest part of the pose: lifting your feet off the floor. Your weight is all in your head and forearms. Your core must work hard to keep you balanced. There are two methods that work best for beginners to do this safely.

1. Bend your knees. Draw one knee into your chest, lifting that foot from the floor. Then draw the other knee in. Both feet are now up. Balance here.

2. Keep your legs straight. Lift one leg straight up toward the ceiling. When that leg is in line with your torso, lift the other foot off the floor. Balance here.

This movement should be very controlled. This is not permission to kick up into the pose. It's ok to lift one leg at a time if you can do it slowly and with control.

3. There is a third way to get up, which is to keep both legs straight as you lift them simultaneously to vertical. This requires a lot of abdominal strength and usually comes later in your practice.

Full Headstand

Man performing headstand on exercise mat, side view
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To complete the pose, lift both legs.

1. If your knees are bend, slowing straighten them to vertical.

2. If you legs are straight, slowing lift the bottom leg to meet the one that is already up. 

3. One you get the legs up, reach through the balls of your feet. Press down strongly into your forearms.

4. Hold for at least 3 breaths at first, working up to 5-10 breaths

5. Try to come out by reversing the method you used to get in. Do this slowly and with control.

6. Rest in child's pose.

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