Ask the Expert: How Do I Know I'm Ready to Try Headstand?

Before you try any inversion for the first time, prepare your body and practice proper alignment to prevent injury and to reap the benefits.
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Before you try any inversion for the first time, prepare your body and practice proper alignment to prevent injury and to reap the benefits.
Rina Jakubowicz Sirsasana

Q: I’m afraid that Headstand will hurt my neck. When will I be ready to try for the first time?

Before practicing Headstand, you should be able to hold Downward Dog, Wide­-Legged Forward Bend, Forearm Plank, and Dolphin for several minutes each. These poses indicate that you possess the proper strength and alignment, such as sustaining external shoulder rotation and having hamstring flexibility.

Headstand can improve upper ­body strength, flexibility, digestion, and perhaps hormonal balance. But this pose also comes with risks, including damage to the cervical spine, if not performed properly. Contraindications include cervical disc and eye issues, and possibly high or extremely low blood pressure.

Alignment is key to practicing safely, so attempt your first Headstand with a trusted yoga teacher. To protect yourself, elongate muscles from your shoulder blades to your fingers to avoid placing weight in your neck; keep proper alignment by not popping out your ribs; and maintain a drishti, or focused gaze, on the wall behind you to balance. After Headstand, take Child’s Pose and then Downward Dog to release back and neck tension.

--Annie Carpenter, Founder of SmartFLOW Yoga, San Francisco

See also Two Fit Moms' Inversion Preps for Beginners