When I first entered into the wonderful world of yoga, I was in complete awe of the somewhat super human abilities of seasoned yoga practitioners. Most of the asanas, especially headstand, seemed completely unattainable – and I was very much convinced that in order to be that flexible, strong and daring, you had to have started practicing from a very young age.
Aside from spending a few short childhood years in very beginner level gymnastics (think jumping on trampolines and doing an occasional cartwheel), I was never involved in anything that pushed me to improve my flexibility. Of course as a young child I was naturally bendy, but puberty and lots of sitting in desks all day throughout high school and college have a way of making even the simplest of stretches a complete strain. By the time I was 23, I could barely touch my toes in forward fold, let alone do any kind of backbend without feeling like my body was going to snap in half. Most inversions were something I only aspired to do but thought would take years to master – hey, headstands aren’t called the “king of all yoga poses” for nothing. 😉
After about 3 months of practicing yoga daily, I attempted my first tripod headstand while at the beach with one of my girl friends. I remember being so incredibly wobbly, my neck was strained, I had the worst banana back ever and I’m pretty sure I held my breath the entire time in fear that even one singular small movement would send me tumbling. In hind site, I did absolutely EVERYTHING wrong. I didn’t listen to my body, I let my ego get in the way, and I could have suffered a pretty bad injury. Of course I didn’t think any of that at the time. I was just excited that I was able to hold a headstand – no matter how uncomfortable it was.
Flash forward 3 years later – my approach and attitude towards headstands has shifted. After learning more about the human body and the pros & cons of each pose, I’m incredibly aware of how, when done incorrectly, headstands can severely compress your neck leading to all kinds of terrible problems (like pinched nerves or damage to your spinal cord). They do however, offer the following amazing benefits 🙌:
- Increase bloodflow and nutrients to the brain ✔️
- Decrease symptoms of depression ✔️
- Improve circulation ✔️
- Strengthen core muscles ✔️
- Increase your focus ✔️
Although I much prefer traditional headstands (Salamba Sirsasana) now, I’ll always have a place in my heart for the tripod headstand style – which was, as previously mentioned, the first headstand I attempted and also the first one I ever felt comfortable in. Although tripod headstands distribute weight on (you guessed it) 3 points, it also is one that I never attempt to hold for more than a few breaths at a time since it can NOT remove all the pressure from your neck. All this being said, if you’re looking to to literally turn your world upside down, here are a few tips that have helped me along the way!*
TIP #1 – Always begin with a wall
To get over the fear of being upside down, it obviously helps to remove the idea of falling. When you have a friend spot you, or a solid wall behind you, it’s a lot easier to focus on what your muscles are doing, rather than letting your thoughts run wild. When you feel comfortable enough to move away from the wall, make sure someone is still there to spot you until you have the form down.
TIP #2 – Proper form is key
Start by placing the top of your head on your mat (add padding if needed), bend elbows at 90 degrees and place palms shoulder distance apart so they lay firmly on the mat. Bring your bottom up slowly, so your seat is directly above your head and your toes are the only part of your lower body still touching the mat. Bring one knee closer to your body and rest it on top of your arm. Then bring the other knee up so you end up in a tripod egg headstand. When you feel comfortable here, start to practice lifting one leg straight towards the sky and then bring it back down. Repeat on the other side. Finally – lift both legs up into the air, making sure to tuck in your abs and keep your pelvic bone drawn towards your sternum.
TIP #3 – Don’t forget to breathe
Whenever we find ourselves in new postures or uncomfortable situations, the body’s natural reaction is to hold your breath. Take your time with getting comfortable in each stage of the way into full tripod headstand. When you come to a moment where you start feeling strained and can no longer focus on your breath, it’s time to take a break and try again another time.
TIP #4 – It’s not a race
The worst thing you can do in any inversion is swing your legs up wildly. The momentum will of course bring you up but without slow and steady self control, it’s too easy to come crashing down. Seriously – slow. it. down.
TIP #5 – Keep eye gaze anchored
The key to any yoga pose that requires balance is an engaged core and a fixed eye gaze. While upside down, find something directly ahead of you to stare at. Resist the urge to let your eyes wander, instead finding that beautiful place where you’re looking through something vs. at something.
I really hope you find these tips to be useful as you venture into the wonderfully fun world of inversions! Please share your thoughts, experiences, and other useful tips in the comments below. I’d love to hear about each of your yoga journeys.
Until next time – happy headstanding!