I never liked doing headstands as a child. I found it uncomfortable, with too much weight pushing on my head. The rush and dizziness I got when I came out of it was uncomfortable. When I started doing yoga it was suddenly something that people used to do in classes and I wanted to try it as well. One day, I went to a yoga class where the teacher told me to kick up into a headstand without giving any other instructions or even offering to assist. I kicked up, rolled over my hands and fell hard on my back. It was a really painful and scary experience. I took this as an opportunity to learn and started looking into the mechanics of headstand: what muscle groups need to be involved, the proper setup of the arms, where you should be looking at. I spent 3 intense months practising with teacher friends who gently and kindly helped me overcome my fear. I remember a one to one session with my friend Lucinda assisting me in headstand. Even though she was holding me and the headstand looked very stable, my heart was beating like crazy and my body was sending all the alarm signals to prevent me from falling. I had to slowly learn that I can trust my body, my strength and concentration to let go of that fear. I kept practising all sorts of headstand variations. Slowly moving away from leaning against the wall to standing in the middle of the room. Now, after three years I feel pretty stable in all sorts of headstand variations – though I still don’t like ’tripod as it has too much weight on my head for my taste. It was a learning curve, through which I found good ways of teaching others how to do a headstand. I now lead several headstand workshops and one-to-one classes. The glow in people’s eyes when they come out of a headstand and feel super proud of themselves is absolutely priceless.
Let’s look into a proper headstand setup:
1) Finding the right position for your headstand Have your mat facing the wall. Cross your arms and take hold of the upper arms. This is the right distance to have between your elbows. Bring your arms onto the mat and interlace your fingers. Fold the little finger under so your hands build a flat edge on the mat, close to the wall. Bring the back of your head into your hands. Keep your gaze on the mat for balance and support.
2) Coming up into a headstand Tuck your toes under and lift your knees off the ground, as if you were coming into dolphin. Walk your feet in towards your head, start to dome the upper spine, and press your arms into the ground for support to take the weight off your head. Shift your hips as high as you can over your shoulders. Bring one knee to your chest, then the other, keep your legs together and tuck your knees into your chest. Engage the belly to support your position.
Use the wall behind you for support. If you feel stable you can start to lengthen both legs up to the ceiling. Never kick up into a headstand: always use the strength in your body to lift your legs up. This will help you to stand freely in the middle of the room in your headstand one day, without the risk of falling and rolling over your hands. Remember to engage the muscles between and around your shoulder blades and press your forearms down. Practise against the wall until you feel completely stable, then start to move slightly away from the wall, so it is still within reach for your legs to support you. Gradually move further and further away until you feel comfortable standing in the middle of the room.
Remember that every day is different and sometimes you might not feel like going upside down. That’s okay. Start to listen to your body, and follow its needs rather than deciding from your head what you want your body to do.
It is somehow difficult to understand what is going on when you are upside down. What helps me to imagine my body position better is taking a video of myself when I learn a new posture. You will spot how your body moves in space and therefore create a visual connection to what is going on when you do an inversion.
1. Elbows too wide: if your elbows are too wide you can’t harness the strength of your shoulders and the weight will rest solely on your head.
2. Looking to the wall opposite you, or at other people while in headstand: Try this: come into a tree position, shift your weight into your right leg, and bring your left foot to the inside of your right thigh. Now lift your arms up and find balance. Start to look around in the room, turn your head from side to side. Do you notice how this challenges your balance? Looking around in the room in headstand will make it a lot harder for you to balance. Keeping your eyes fixed to the mat will make things much easier.
3. Separating the legs: If you are just getting started with your headstand, keeping your legs together will be easier to keep your balance. At first it can be a little difficult to picture yourself when you are upside down, and when your legs start moving separately, it will get even harder.
Keep everything as organised as possible and you’ll notice the difference.