How to Do a Headstand (Sirsasana) in Yoga

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

Targets: Core

Level: Advanced

Sirsasana, or a yoga headstand, can be an energizing pose. It's also one of the more difficult poses to master and, if done incorrectly, can cause serious injury. This post requires long hamstrings, flexible spine and shoulders, and solid upper body strength. It's important to ensure you're focused, conditioned, and using proper technique before attempting the pose on your own.

Benefits

When done with focus, strength, and care, headstands can be an invigorating part of your yoga practice. The pose requires skill and mental fortitude. It also develops your core strength and challenges your whole body—from your shoulders to your toes, helping you improve your balance.

Step-by-Step Instructions

Man kneeling on exercise mat, leaning forward, side view
John Freeman / Getty Images
  1. Get on your hands and knees with your wrists under your shoulders and your knees under your hips.
  2. Bring your forearms to the floor, keeping your elbows directly under your shoulders.
  3. Clasp each hand around the opposite elbow. Adjust as needed to ensure your elbows are the right distance apart.
  4. Release your hands from your elbows.
  5. Clasp your hands together on the floor, interlacing your fingers (tuck the bottom pinky into the basket of your hand to avoid squishing it).
  6. Place the crown of your head on the floor. The very top of your head should be down—neither too far forward nor back. The back of your head will rest at the bases of your thumbs rather than your hands holding your skull.
  7. Lift your hips and straighten your legs as if you were doing Downward-Facing Dog.
  8. Carefully walk your feet in toward your head until your hips are as close to over your shoulders as possible.
 John Freeman/Getty Images

9. Next is the trickiest part of the pose: lifting your feet off the floor. There are two methods that work best for beginners.

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

Using either method, you'll want to start by making sure your weight is not all on your head, but rather your goal should be to root down into forearms while lifting up and out of the shoulders.

Method 1 (Above/Left)
To ease up into the headstand:

  1. Lift your right foot to bring your right knee to your chest.
  2. Take a few deep breaths. When you feel steady, inhale and engage your core muscles.
  3. In a slow, controlled, movement exhale as you lift your left foot and bring it to your chest alongside your right.
  4. Breathe deeply and keep your core engaged for as long as you remain in the headstand pose.

Method 2 (Above/Right)
You can also try this method of getting into the pose:

  1. Keep both legs straight. Inhale as you lift your right leg straight up toward the ceiling.
  2. Exhale. Make sure your right leg is completely in line with your torso.
  3. Once you feel steady, inhale and engage your core to lift your left leg up next to your right.

Once you are in position:

  1. Balance there. Remember to breath and keep your core strong. When you're first starting out, try to stay in the pose for about 10 seconds.
  2. When you're ready to come down, reverse the steps you used to get into the pose. Your movements should be slow and controlled.
  3. Finish by resting in Child's Pose.

Common Mistakes

You're Kicking Up

Remember, your movements need to be controlled—you don't want to kick up into the headstand.

Your Weight Isn't Distributed

Even though it's called a headstand, your forearms are bearing weight too. If you're having trouble getting a feel for how to distribute your weight properly (which will differ for everybody), try placing a blanket under your forearms for stability.

You're Moving Too Fast

No matter what level of yoga practice and fitness you're at, doing a headstand incorrectly or speeding through the steps to get in (or out of) the pose can result in major damage. Slow down, stay focused, remember to breathe, and check in with your body frequently.

Modifications and Variations

Need a Modification?

Headstands can be intimidating for even more experienced yogis. If you're still working up the strength and confidence to do the pose, try these modifications:

  • Practice against a wall: This can be especially helpful as you are learning how to get in and out of a headstand and can support you as you practice your breathing techniques while you hold the pose.
  • Use a spotter: The first few times you try to get into the pose on your own, it's a good idea to have someone nearby to help you out. Not only can they help you avoid injury, they can also provide encouragement and reminders to breath.
  • Helpful equipment: Ask your instructor or trainer about using a tool like a feet-up trainer or yoga blocks to help you practice.

Up for a Challenge?

In addition to the two methods mentioned above for getting up into your headstand, you can also try a third—but it requires more abdominal strength and is best saved for when you are more practiced.

This method will have you keep both legs straight as you lift them at the same time to a vertical position:

After getting into the above-mentioned position:

  1. Get into the headstand position mentioned above.
  2. If your knees are bent, slowing straighten them vertically. If your legs are straight, slowly lift your bottom leg to meet the one that is already up.
  3. Once both legs are up, reach through the balls of your feet. 
  4. Press down strongly into your forearms.
  5. Hold for at least three breaths (you can work up to 10 breaths).
  6. Come out of the pose as advised above.
Man performing headstand on exercise mat, side view
John Freeman / Getty Images

Safety and Precautions

Doing a headstand incorrectly can seriously injure your neck. The small bones of the spine in your neck are not designed to bear the weight of your whole body.

Headstands are tricky, but the safest approach is to build the pose from the ground up, checking along the way to ensure your alignment is good, that you're staying focused, and that you have the strength you need to get into (and out of) the pose safely.

As always, talk to your doctor before you start a yoga practice, especially if you have diseases or injuries affecting your neck or spine. If you've recently had an injury or surgery involving your neck, spine, or head, you may need to avoid the pose until you've healed.

First Thing's First

To avoid neck strain or disc herniation, work with your instructor or trainer to condition your body and get focused before you attempt a full headstand on your own.

While many yoga poses can be calming, have a history of high blood pressure (hypertension) or take medication to treat it, or have glaucoma, your doctor may advise you to avoid inversion poses.

Some yoga teachers advise students to avoid inversions or headstands when they are feeling especially stressed out, haven't been sleeping well, or are weak and fatigued. If you're not sure you feel up to a headstand in class, skip it or ask your instructor or trainer for help before getting into the pose.

Due to changes in circulation and a shifting center of gravity, it's generally best to avoid starting any inversion practices, included headstands, if you're pregnant.

If you want the benefits of inversion a yoga headstand can provide but you aren't able to do the pose yet or at all, other poses can have similar benefits. If you're recovering from an injury, surgery, or have certain medication conditions, these options may be safer for you.

Try It Out

Headstands can be an energizing pose and a great core workout. If you're feeling confident, focused, and strong, here are some ways to make them part of your yoga routine or take your practice to the next level:

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