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Practicing headstand safely

Headstand, sirsasana, is a very dynamic pose in the hatha yoga practice. If practiced safely and mindfully, it can be a very beneficial pose. Considered the "king of all asanas (poses)", headstand rejuvenates the blood flow to the brain, allowing for mental clarity. This pose also energizes people. If practiced carelessly, it can lead to injury. Rushing into this pose without properly setting the foundation can cause a practitioner to injure oneself. Concerns about the neck's safety in this pose is of concern, but if practiced using the following steps, one will be safe in headstand and reap the benefits of this pose.

Model: Andrea D'AmoreInterlace fingers, resting the pinky finger side by side on the floor for support.
Model: Andrea D'AmoreInterlace fingers, resting the pinky finger side by side on the floor for support. Marcia Hudgel.

Setting up headstand starts with measuring the shoulders and elbows. Bring the elbows shoulder distant apart. Keep them that distance. A tendency in this pose, especially for those with tight shoulders, is to "wing" the elbows out further than the width of the shoulders. This will lead to instability in the pose.

Once shoulder distance is measured, plug the elbows into the mat and bring the forearms forward, interlacing the fingers. The little fingers should lay side by side on the floor for more support. The grip of the fingers should be tight down to the base of the fingers, but the palms are separated.

Bring the top of the head to the floor, with the back of the head being cradled by the palms of the hand. This should be loose, with a gentle grip between the back of the head and the fingers.

Tuck the toes under and lift the hips towards the sky, straightening the legs.

Start to walk the feet forward. With each step, draw the shoulder blades down the back, allowing some space between the shoulders and the ears, and space for the neck. Press firmly through the forearms.

Walk the feet forward until they start to float off the floor. The weight will shift behind to help lift the legs and feet off of the floor. It takes a strong core and root lock (lifting the pelvic floor) to lift the legs in this fashion. Bringing the hips back in line with the shoulders is key as the legs lift.

With the legs glued together, extend the legs up to the sky. Keep the abdominals and ribs drawing in so as not to collapse in the lower back. It is also important to keep pressure mainly in the forearms and elbows rather than all on the head. There will be some pressure on the head, but more so on the forearms. Continue to squeeze the legs together once lifted into the headstand.

Try to release with the same control as coming into the pose. Hold the pose for five breaths to start, eventually working up to 25 breaths.

If entering headstand with the legs together is too much at first, bend the knees, keeping them together. Tuck them in towards the chest and then lift the legs.

It is always a good idea to practice headstand at first with an experienced yoga teacher.