We sit at desks all day typing with one hand, texting with the other, earbuds in either listening to music or talking on the phone. From all angles we have gadgets, social media, tasks, and people vying for our attention. Our goal is that we would find balance in the chaos, and stay grounded in the midst of hectic lives.

We’re best friends, photographers, and yogis in New York City, and we’ve found that yoga and friendship have helped us do just that: Stay balanced (and have fun while doing so).

This week we’re going to work our way into *headstand.

There are so many benefits to getting upside down for a few minutes every day.Headstands — as with any inversion — improve blood circulation, strengthen your core muscles, and improve your balance. Since there’s an increased blood flow, you can get a burst of energy. So, if it’s mid-afternoon and you’re getting ready for a nap, try an inversion. They also calm the nervous system by activating the parasympathetic nervous system. This gives us a sense of balance and serenity. Not to mention, they’re really fun, too.

A few things before we begin:

  • Go ahead and warm up your body with our 15 minute stress relief flow.  (Never do inversions on a cold body).
  • During headstand practice, don’t forget to breathe evenly and smoothly, making your inhales as long as your exhales and vice versa. Also, engage your feet and legs as if standing in Mountain Pose.
  • If using a friend, have him/ her stabilize your hips as you tuck your legs into your chest and then prevent you from falling by holding on to your ankles. As you become more comfortable with headstands, your friend can remove his/her hands and instead act like a two-sided wall by having both forearms on either side of your legs in case you lose balance in either direction.
  • As with all props and variations, you should use them for stability and good form but never to completely replace those very exact key elements that you must feel on your own. Always keep your core active and trust that every tiny bit of progress is indeed a sign of that!

Let’s get started!

yoga headstand

Form a triangle shape with your head and hands by placing your hands shoulder-width apart and the crown of your head a few inches in front of them.

1. Curl your toes under, lift your knees off the mat and walk your feet toward your shoulders, stacking hips over shoulders for dolphin pose.  Stay for 7 breaths.  Make sure you’re not dumping your weight into your shoulders.  Shoulders should be down your back.  Activate your forearms as though you were pressing the mat away from you. This is a full body workout y’all. Your triceps, core, and legs are engaged too.

Even though this is Step 1, this is already a headstand! Always be mindful of your body and move forward only if you have a solid base and are using a wall or friend for stability.

Yoga for Everyone: A Headstand How-To | DARLING | Photo by Sara Kearns

2. Bend one knee into your torso and engage your core, either keeping it lifted or placing it on your tricep for more stability.

When you’re ready, lift the other leg off the mat and hold this tucked egg position for 10 breaths, either with knees on or off the triceps. Distribute the weight evenly throughout your hands and head by pressing hands down and moving shoulders away from ears.

**The thing about yoga is it’s all about layers.  There are so many options.  If you need to stay in dolphin, stay in dolphin.  If you are having a hard time holding your egg shape for 10 breaths, then it’s not quite time to move onto the next step.  Remember, honor where you body is at today, and let go of the attachment to how you want it to look.  Chances are when we’re doing this on the mat, we’re doing it in our lives, too.  How many times in life do we get so stuck on the outcome that we forget to enjoy the journey?  There are lessons to learn at each stage.  It’s not about finally arriving to the end goal.  The journey is the destination.**

3. With complete control, begin extending one leg up** and keep the other leg tucked in to start getting a feel for the full expression of the pose. To prevent losing balance, keep the extended leg aligned with your hips and shoulders. Stay for 15 breaths and slowly return the extended leg to your tricep before moving on.

**If you feel confident and ready to try a more challenging option, instead of extending one leg at a time, lift both legs simultaneously off your triceps and extend them toward the sky.  Stay for 15 breaths.

4. Use your core to slowly lower your feet to the mat, and sit back into child’s pose.

Options for headstand practice:

1. Bound headstand.  Rather than creating a triangle with your hands and head, create a cup for the back of your head by interlacing fingers and placing the crown of your head directly in front of them. Follow steps 2-4 with this option, remembering to press forearms  down to the mat to feel a lifting sensation from your shoulders and remove direct pressure from your head.

2. Wide-leg forward fold into headstand.  Another option is to practice headstand starting from a standing posture. With legs extended the length of your mat and upper body weighing down toward the floor, feel the heaviness of gravity before moving forward. This pose is wonderful as preparation for headstands because it not only lengthens your hamstrings but it also sets a peaceful mood for your full inversion.

After breathing for 10 breaths, begin to bring more weight to the balls of your feet so you can lift your heels from the mat. Once your hips are stacked above your shoulders, it should feel almost effortless to lift your legs completely off the mat and come into a wide straddle. Stay for 10 breaths.

yoga wide leg headstand

You can stay here or begin engaging your inner thighs toward each other until you’re in a full headstand. Stay for 15 breaths before slowly moving through the steps in reverse.

To come down, engage core.  Either wide leg option like how you entered, egg, or pike down.  Whatever will serve you most today!

What’d you think? We’d love to hear your thoughts, and if you have any questions whatsoever, leave a comment or email us: info@therefinedwoman.com

Until next time …

 *NOTE:  Headstands shouldn’t be practiced by anyone with high blood pressure, neck injuries, some heart conditions, epilepsy and other contraindications prior to an assessment by a doctor. Women should also avoid any inversion during their monthly cycle as it’s a time to let nature move downward rather than opposite gravity. 

Photos via Sara KerensTutti del Monte; Kat Harris of The Refined Woman 

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