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Supported Headstand: The Complete Guide

Salamba Sirsasana lets you experiment with unfamiliar perspectives, test your strength, and address your fears.


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Salamba Sirsasana (Supported Headstand), sometimes called the “king” of poses, is a powerful inversion that demands a strong body and mind. When performed carefully and safely, this asana gives you an opportunity to experiment with the unfamiliar.

Headstand can strengthen the arms, legs, core, and spine, as well as improve digestion and energize the body. “Standing on your head in proper alignment not only strengthens the whole body, but also calms the brain,” says yoga teacher Kathryn Budig.

But “headstand can be scary,” says John Schumacher, founder and director of Unity Woods Yoga Center. “It literally turns your world upside down. Beginners may become disoriented, unable to tell left from right and top from bottom.”

It’s important to practice care in this pose to prevent injury. Especially avoid putting too much weight on your head or neck. Instead, use the muscles from your shoulders to push yourself off the floor, and your core and legs to extend upward.

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Supported Headstand basics

Sanskrit: Salamba Sirsasana (sah-LOM-bah shear-SHAHS-anna)

sa = with

alamba = support

sirsa = head

Pose type: Inversion

Targets: Core

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Benefits

Supported Headstand improves posture, body awareness, and circulation—both lymphatic and venous. It can help reduce swelling in your ankles and feet, boost energy and fight fatigue, and help build confidence.

Other Supported Headstand perks:

  • Strengthens, stabilizes, and retrains your rotator cuff muscles to work more efficiently
  • Strengthens your core, back, chest, arms, shoulders, thighs, buttocks (glutes), and diaphragm
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Supported Headstand: Step-by-step instructions

  1. Start in Tabletop. Lean forward, place your elbows where your hands were and extend your forearms on the floor in front of you. Interlace your fingers, cupping your palms, and anchor your forearms and wrists to the floor.
  2. Place the crown of your head lightly on the floor, inside your arms, with the back of your head against your hands. Do not put your full weight on your head.
  3. Tuck your toes, lift your hips, and walk in toward your head, until your hips are positioned directly above your shoulders and your back is straight.
  4. Press into the floor, maintaining the weight of your body with your arms and using your shoulders to lift your head away from the floor.
  5. Bend your knees and use your core to lift your legs off the floor. Bring them close to your body and find balance with the hips directly over your shoulders.
  6. Shifting your weight if needed to maintain balance, hug your thighs together and extend your legs upward.
  7. Find balance with a neutral spine, activating your core and back muscles to hold you erect.
  8. Stay up as long as you feel comfortable and strong. To release, bring your feet back down to the floor slowly, using your core muscles to control your descent.
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Explore the pose

In Supported Headstand, it is important to keep your legs strong and straight to help lift your spine. And make sure your forearms, elbows, wrists, and head are placed evenly on the floor and your weight is balanced.

Keep the shoulders, shoulder blades, and trapezius lifted, so the neck remains long. If at any time the weight is on your head and neck rather than your forearms, come out immediately.

Check the position of your inner wrists. They tend to fall outward, shifting the weight onto the outer forearms. Turn the pinkies away from the back of your head, and bring the inner wrists perpendicular to the floor. As you firm the outer upper arms inward, press the wrists actively into the floor.

Keep the abs and back active to avoid over arching the lower back or allowing the lower ribs to flare out.

Do an honest assessment of your physical, mental, and emotional state each time you practice. Avoid the pose when your stress levels are high, sleep is compromised, you are fatigued, and when other factors are affecting your well-being.

Sequencing tips

Work on postures that engage your core, arms, and shoulders before practicing this posture. Some schools of yoga recommend doing Salamba Sirsasana before Salamba Sarvangasana (Supported Shoulderstand), others vice versa. The instructions here assume the former order.

Be mindful!

  • Sirsasana is considered to be an intermediate to advanced pose. Do not perform this pose without sufficient experience or unless you have the supervision of an experienced teacher.
  • This pose is not recommended if you have high blood pressure, a weak or injured neck, or eye conditions like glaucoma or a detached retina.
  • Take your time coming out of Sirsasana and remain still and low to the ground for several breaths after you come out of the pose.
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Supported Headstand variations

Photo: Eleanor Williamson

Headstand prep

Keep your knees bent and drawn into your chest to keep your center of gravity low and reduce your risk of falling. Make sure you are not putting any pressure on your head and neck. Practice here until you feel strong and steady before you extend your legs.

Photo: Eleanor Williamson

Dolphin pose

From hands and knees, bring your forearms to the ground. You may interlace fingers or place your palms down on the mat. Tuck your toes and straighten your legs to lift your hips up and back into Dolphin Pose. Your heels may or may not reach the floor.

Relax your neck as you press your forearms into the floor. Keep the spine and neck neutral, following the natural curves of the back. Stay for several breaths.

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Preparatory and counter poses

Before practicing Headstand, prepare your body by coming into poses that draw on core, arm, and shoulder strength before transitioning into this posture.

Preparatory poses

Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose)

Urdhva Hastasana (Upward Salute)

Forearm Plank

Dolphin Pose

Counter poses

Balasana (Child’s Pose)

Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend)

Salamba Sarvangasana (Supported Shoulderstand)

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Your body in Supported Headstand | Anatomy

We spend most of our waking hours either sitting or standing with the head above the heart. Headstand inverts and balances this habitual position, potentially affecting a variety of physiological processes. When you’re in the pose, it is important to align the direction of the force of gravity with the anatomical axis of the vertebral column, such that the weight of the body is taken into the shoulders and distributed evenly throughout the intervertebral discs and vertebral bodies.

In the drawings below, pink muscles are stretching and blue muscles are contracting. The shade of the color represents the force of the stretch and the force of contraction. Darker = stronger.

Headstand: Salamba Sirasasana
Illustration: Chris Macivor

Align your shoulders and spine. Initially, press down through the shoulders by engaging the upper third of the trapezius. Relax this muscle and draw the shoulders away from the ears as we progress this pose.

Headstand: Salamba Sirasasana
Illustration: Chris Macivor

Engage the triceps by trying to press your forearms into the mat. Use the biceps and brachialis muscles to counter the action of the triceps. Let the triceps work harder, but be careful not to shift your body weight over your elbows.

Externally rotate the upper arm bones (the humeri) by contracting the infraspinatus and teres minor muscles of the rotator cuff. This stabilizes the head of the humorous in the socket. Draw the shoulders away from the ears, freeing the cervical spine, by contracting the lower third of the trapezius.

Combine the actions of the gluteus maximus and adductor magnus to extend the hips in the pose. The cue for this is to gently squeeze the buttocks while drawing the knees together. Slightly arch the back by engaging the erector spinae and quadratus lumborum. However, activating the gluteus maximus too strongly can result in a swayback posture. To counter this, engage the psoas and pectineus muscles at the front of the pelvis to bring the thighs back into position. Firm the abdomen by gently contracting the rectus abdominus to prevent overarching.

Imagine pressing the outer edges of your feet into an immovable object. Your legs do not pull apart; however, this activates the abductor muscles of the thighs and the kneecaps are kept facing forward. You can train this action by looping a strap or tying a belt snugly around the thighs and attempting to press your legs outward.

Evert (turn out) the ankles by engaging the peronei at the sides of the lower legs. Finally, engage the tibialis anterior to draw the tops of the feet toward the shins and open the soles upward.

Excerpted with permission from The Key Poses of Yoga and Anatomy for Arm Balances and Inversions by Ray Long.

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Put Supported Headstand into practice

This 40-Minute Practice Will Help You Master Your Headstand

Don’t Let These Tricky Poses Scare You

Why Inversions Should Be a Part of Your Yoga Practice


About our contributors

Teacher and model Natasha Rizopoulos is a senior teacher at Down Under Yoga in Boston, where she offers classes and leads 200- and 300-hour teacher trainings. A dedicated Ashtanga practitioner for many years, she became equally as captivated by the precision of the Iyengar system. These two traditions inform her teaching and her dynamic, anatomy-based vinyasa system Align Your Flow. For more information, visit natasharizopoulos.com.

Ray Long is an orthopedic surgeon and the founder of Bandha Yoga, a popular series of yoga anatomy books, and the Daily Bandha, which provides tips and techniques for teaching and practicing safe alignment. Ray graduated from the University of Michigan Medical School and pursued post-graduate training at Cornell University, McGill University, the University of Montreal, and the Florida Orthopedic Institute. He has studied hatha yoga for over 20 years, training extensively with B.K.S. Iyengar and other leading yoga masters, and teaches anatomy workshops at yoga studios around the country.