Building Up to Headstand

Amber Scriven
Building Up to Headstand

While a strong Headstand practice is wonderful for calming the mind and strengthening the core, building towards that practice can be a pretty stressful challenge! It requires patience with your body, strength in your core, spine, and shoulders, balance and focus, confidence, and purposeful alignment.

Here are a few places to work every time you practice, in order to take some of the stress out of the process and to help you build towards having a stable Headstand.

Build Your Core

This is not just your abdominal strength, although adding Bicycles and Boats to every practice will go a long way! The kind of core needed for any inversion practice is about squeezing everything to your midline.

Try using a fully engaged Extended Mountain Pose. This is exactly how you should be engaging your body in a Headstand:

  • Starting in Mountain Pose, practice squeezing your ankles together, then squeeze your thighs together.
  • Next, press your belly button to your spine and allow your ribs and hips to come forward slightly.
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades together behind you and reach your arms over your head, squeezing your palms together.
  • Now stand on your toes and try to balance there for 5 breaths.

You can practice this action in all your postures, specifically Side Plank, Plank, Crescent Lunge, Eagle, Tree, and Chair Pose.

Shoulder and Spinal Stacking

Working with Plank: Having a strong Plank is essential to having a strong and stable Headstand. If you can get to a place where you are able to hold Plank for 10 breaths, and Low Plank, or Chaturanga Dandasana, for 5 breaths, your shoulders will be in good shape.

For a Forearm Headstand specifically, you will want to practice Forearm Planks as well. Try to keep your elbows directly under your shoulders with your hands interlaced. Squeezing your elbows towards your midline in this manner is key in maintaining a stable base for your eventual Headstand, so start training for it now!

Planks also help with core strength and the alignment of your spine in Headstand. If you don’t have proper spinal alignment and a strongly engaged core in your Headstand, it will result in “Sway Back,” meaning your low back is not supported and is deeply curved. This makes your hold have much less strength, as your spine is no longer stacked adequately. To prevent “Sway Back,” simply take your Plank alignment seriously and get strong in the process.

  • If you feel wobbly in any variation of your Plank, or notice that your hips are sagging towards to the ground, then pull your stomach in all the way.
  • If this still doesn’t help, drop your knees to protect your back. The sagging means you need more core strength before taking the posture up a notch.
  • Keep your shoulders and upper back strong by stacking the joints. Make sure your wrists are under your shoulders in Plank, and your elbows are over your wrists in Chaturanga.
  • Externally rotate your triceps to keep your upper arms engaged (the soft inner part of your elbow joint should be looking forward).

Swimming Dolphins: You should use Dolphin (Down Dog on your forearms) as much as possible to prepare for any type of Headstand. Dolphin Pose builds shoulder strength and helps your hips stack over your ears. Practice what I call “Swimming Dolphins” as much as you can:

  • Hold Dolphin for 3 breaths, squeezing your elbows towards each other and lifting your shoulders away from your ears.
  • Then lift one leg straight up with your toes fanned out to ignite all your leg muscles.
  • Next, rock high on the toes of your standing foot for 3 breaths, lifting higher with every inhale.
  • Repeat these twice on each side.

This action helps your body learn how to stack your hips over your shoulders. It also gets your shoulders used to holding your weight so that you are not relying on your head and neck in your Headstand.

Try stepping this up a notch by placing a block under your feet to help raise your hips, encouraging them a little closer to being over your ears.

Conquer Your Fear

The fear in Headstand is based on two things: fear of the unknown (being upside down), and fear of falling.

Play upside down as often as you can. The more time you spend in upside down holds like Down Dog, Shoulder Stand, Wheel, or even Ragdoll, the more confidence you will have about moving your body while upside down.

The fear of falling is genuine and can be combated with strength and flexibility in the lift itself. Many of us start by hopping our legs up. This is fine, but it is not optimal and can actually instigate a rush of fear about “over leaping” and falling backwards, which will make it hard for you to progress and will tire you more quickly.

There are four ways to combat this:

1. Use a wall when you leap up. Gradually step further and further away form the wall as you learn where your point of balance is.

2. Practice your Wheel and Forearm Wheel so that toppling backwards is less scary, as you know you can trust your Wheel Pose to catch you.

3. Practice coming up with a slight bend in both knees. This “Running Man” style Headstand will make it so you can find your torso’s balance. Slowly straighten your legs together once you feel confident you are not going to topple backwards.

4. Deepen your Forward Fold. The more flexible your Forward Fold is, the less you will need to leap your legs off the ground, and the more in control you will be when it comes time to lift your legs into a Headstand. The safer you feel, the more courageous you become, and the more likely you are to come into any pose.

Good luck with your practice as you begin building up to Headstand, and remember to be patient. Let us know how it goes in the comments below!