Yoga with Bianca | Supported Headstand
Supported headstand is one of the first inversions I learned when I got deeper into my yoga practice. I remember practicing the pose at home and usually by a wall. Then one day, I was in a yoga class and my mat was in the middle of the room. The instructor cued us through the pose by piking up our legs and I found the lift up and held the pose! I was so excited! It wasn’t until I learned to use core stability to pike up did this pose really click for me. In this post, I will show you how to get into headstand in a safe and accessible way.
Just to preface this tutorial, everyone’s body structure is different. Our muscles, joints, and bones are built differently and any injuries will also change the dynamic. If you experience any neck or shoulder injuries, I would refrain from spending time in headstand and opting for other inversions instead.
Here we go!
With any yoga pose you are attempting, you can use the following template to break down the pose:
Breaking Down Supported Headstand- SOUL
U- Understand Muscle Action
Extension of hamstring muscles and core stabilization
(Source of acronym: Corepower Yoga Level II Teacher Training)
Before you go into headstand practice, I recommend flowing through sun salutations and a strength series for your core. You can practice the poses and vinyasa flow shown here, which will help warm up your body for this peak posture. You can incorporate the poses below in your own flow.
Child’s Pose Variation
This is a modification for child’s pose that opens up your triceps. I love starting in child’s pose because it is so grounding. This pose opens up your hips and shoulders. Try bringing your knees to mat distance or wider and bringing your big toes to touch. You can massage your forehead side to side to ease away tension. This is the perfect transition from your busy day into your yoga practice.
Ground your palms into the mat in downward facing dog. Focus on pressing your knuckles down into the mat so you alleviate the pressure from your wrists. Stay in downward facing dog for a few breaths. Lift your leg up in space while keeping equal pressure on both palms and squaring your hips in line with one another. Keep breathing here, wrap your front ribs in and hug your belly button to your spine to keep your core engaged.
The tendency is for your hip to open up so you can lift your leg higher. It isn’t so much about how high your leg goes but more so on the position of your hips. This pose is great for working your glutes as well. Hold here for a few breaths then switch legs.
It’s important to have a strong core if you want to invert yourself. Find plank pose. Align your shoulders over your hips and press your weight into your hands and balls of your feet. Micro-bend your elbows to further work your arm muscles and core and avoid hyper-extending through your elbow joints. Form one line of energy from your heels all the way to the top of your head. Broaden through your chest and stay strong. When you feel stable in your plank, you can work on lifting one leg up. Keep your hips stable and squared to your mat and only lift your leg as high as hip height. Hold one side for three to five breaths and then switch.
Chaturanga is a foundational pose and is the key to unlocking most, if not all, yoga arm balances. When I started yoga, I remember it took me a few months to be able to bend my elbows back and keep them by my sides (I’m still working on my alignment in this pose too 🙂 ).
Starting from high plank, inhale as you hinge your body forward onto your tippy toes. Keep your core strong and exhale as you lower halfway down by bending your elbows back. Keep your shoulder heads pulled back away from your ears. Avoid lowering down more than halfway as this will put a lot of pressure on your shoulders. Lengthen your tailbone back and keep your glutes in line with the rest of your body. If you feel too much pressure on your shoulders, lower your knees down and you will still get the strength benefits of the pose!
Forearm Plank Pose
Forearm plank is one of my favorite static hold poses because it gets so much done! You can interlace your fingers or have them flat in a number “11” position. Stack your elbows right underneath your shoulders and keep them only shoulder width distance apart. A quick check is to cross your arms and capture your biceps with your hands– this will tell you how wide your base should be.
Use the same tips as plank from above. In this pose, press down through your forearms and work on hugging your shoulder blades together down your back. This will keep your upper body from sinking. Take deep breaths as you hold. Challenge yourself with this pose. Start out by holding your forearm plank for 30 seconds. Then keep upping your time as you go!
Hey, you never know when you’re going to be challenged to a plank contest. 😉 A few years ago, when I worked as an auditor at the Big Four, they flew us out to the East Coast for training. My training room had people from investment management, banking, and insurance. They asked me to represent investment management in a plank competition as part of our team building activity. The last person standing err planking was a guy who held it for seven minutes! You know I held my own though!
Dolphin Pose and Dolphin Push-ups
From your forearm plank, walk your feet in and find downward facing dog with your lower body. Lift your hips as high as you can and wrap your front ribs in. This is dolphin pose. As you gain flexibility in your hamstrings, you’ll be able to bring your feet closer and closer to your arms. You can hold dolphin for 3 to 5 breaths or more. From here, you can also practice dolphin push-ups.
Start from dolphin pose then exhale as you shift your body over to plank with your shoulders aligned over your elbows, then inhale as you lift your hips high for dolphin. Try 10 reps then rest in child’s pose.
Supported Headstand Pose
Headstand Base: Measuring the Crown of your Head
The crown of your head is the foundation for any headstand. You can find the safest part of your head to balance on by placing your palm on your forehead. Where your middle finger meets the top of your head is the crown of your head. When you try headstand, place the crown of your head gently on the mat.
Headstand Layer 1: Leg Lifts
Interlace your fingers and open your palms up. Rest your forearms on the mat at shoulder width distance. Place the crown of your head on the mat right in front of your open palms. Your palms should be supporting the back of your head. Supported headstand is great because most of the weight will actually be on your forearms (which is why shoulder strength is key).
Once you have the top part of your headstand set up, walk your feet as close in as you can. The higher your hips are, the easier it will be to get into the pose. Start by practicing lifting one leg up at a time while keeping your hips as square as you can. (When you open up your hip, it throws off your center and balance.)
It’s important to use your core and shoulder strength during your leg lifts. It’s best to avoid kicking up into handstand or using momentum because it can cause injury.
When you lift up one leg, try coming onto your tippy toes on your base leg. This will elevate your hips further.
Headstand Layer 2: Practice Pike
I personally think piking up is the safest way to enter into headstand. So once you feel like you are solid with your leg lifts, you can practice piking up! There’s a low risk of toppling over because one leg is close to the ground and can catch yourself if you tip over.
The key is pressing your weight through your forearms, activating your shoulders, and engaging your core. Most of your weight should be on your arms.
Start by lifting one leg up in space. Keep your hips as square as you can and walk your toes in as close to your torso as possible so you can get your hips above your shoulders. From here, use your glutes to keep lifting your raised leg as high as it can go. When you lift your top leg as high as you can while keeping your hips stable, your bottom leg will start to follow and lift up as well, as you can see in the series of photos above.
Keep breathing through this pose and try it on both sides! Stay persistent. Just remember, yoga is a practice.
Full Supported Headstand
You can also bend your knee on your way up! Find what works best with your body. After you are done playing with headstand, rest in embryo pose (which is child’s pose with your knees together and arms by your sides) for three to five breaths.
Here is a video showing you one way to get in and out of supported headstand. Go layer by layer, take it slow, and be brave! For more advanced variations, you can pike both legs up at the same time and add in fun poses using your legs (eagle, lotus, splits). I am so excited for the headstand breakthrough you will achieve! Please share with me your experience or feedback by leaving a comment below.