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Yoga Poses

Supported Headstand

Standing on your head in Salamba Sirsasana strengthens the whole body and calms the brain.

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Salamba Sirsasana (Supported Headstand) is an energizing inversion that relies on the strength of your upper body and core, while centering and focusing your mind.

Though there are many physical benefits, including building leg, arm, and core strength, this is a challenging pose that you must approach with a “safety first” mentality. The key to this asana is to avoid placing weight on your head and neck. Instead, let your arms and shoulders hold you up.

Supported Headstand basics

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

Pose type: Inversion

Targets: Core

Why we love it: The funnest way to practice Headstand? Try it in a doorway. Walking the feet up the doorjamb and into the pose makes it possible to do with support and without relying on momentum to kick myself up into it,” says Tamara Jeffries, Yoga Journal‘s senior editor.

Pose benefits

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

Supported Headstand: Step-by-step instructions

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  1. Start on your hands and knees in hands and knees. Lean forward and place your forearms on the floor in front of you. Bring your hands together and interlace your fingers, tucking your bottom pinky finger inside so the outer edges of your hands are stable on the mat. Bring your elbows slightly narrow than shoulder-distance apart.
  2. Place the crown of your head on the floor with the back of your head against your palms. Press down with your forearms and elbows and allow your head to come slightly off the floor.
  3. Tuck your toes, lift your knees, and straighten your legs in Dolphin Pose. Continue to press firmly through your arms, keeping weight off your head. Draw your shoulder blades away from your ears. Then walk your feet toward your head until your hips are above your shoulders.
  4. Bend your knees and use your core to slowly lift one or both your legs off the floor, keeping your knees bent and legs together and tucked into your chest. Engage your core and continue to press down through your arms and draw your shoulders away from your ears. Slowly straighten your legs, one at a time or together, until they are directly above your shoulders, reaching your legs toward the ceiling.
  5. Find your balance here, which can take practice. Shifting your weight as need be to keep your ankles stacked over your head.
  6. Hug your thighs together as you straighten your legs. Lift and lengthen through all sides of your torso.
  7. Stay up as long as you feel comfortable and strong. If at any point you feel increased pressure on your head and neck, immediately come out of the pose. Use your abdominal strength to slowly lower your legs while continuing to press down through your forearms. Take your time as you slowly bring your feet back to the mat in Dolphin Pose. Make your way into Child’s Pose.

Beginner’s tips

Practice this challenging inversion only under the careful supervision of a teacher who’s familiar with your practice. Uncertain if you’re ready? Here’s how to know. 

  • Rely on some support. Practice against a wall or in a doorway (see above). Take one foot, then the other away from the wall as you find more strength and balance in the pose.
  • It can help to remind yourself that this pose is similar to other poses but with a more challenging relationship to gravity. Engage your core, legs, and arms the same way you would in Tadasana or Forearm Plank.
  • Yoga teacher Alexandria Crow explains that as you’re practicing the pose, “Your pelvis may shift past your shoulders to create a counterweight for your legs in this transition pose. Keep your core engaged and be sure the weight in your head doesn’t intensify. If it does increase—at any stage—return to having just one leg up, or to Forearm Plank.”
  • Start small. Try to stay up for 10 seconds, then gradually add 5 to 10 seconds at a time. It’s better to hold a solid 20-second pose than a three-minute pose that lacks integrity.
  • Exit with grace. Use your abs to lower the legs in a smooth motion. Come down with an exhalation, without losing the lift of the shoulder blades.

Teaching Salamba Sirsasana

These cues can help your students find steadiness and safe alignment.

  • Press the lengths of your inner and outer forearms into the mat, while trying to lift off the mat. The combination of expansion and contraction will help you maintain integrity in the pose.
  • Start with an honest assessment of your physical, mental, and emotional state. Avoid the pose when you are stressed, your sleep is compromised, you are fatigued, or other factors are affecting your well-being.

Variation: Supported Headstand prep

A person practices Dolphin Pose in yoga
(Photo: Andrew Clark; Clothing: Calia)

Practice Dolphin Pose in preparation for or instead of Headstand. Come into the posture with your elbows and forearms on the mat. Practice walking your feet toward your hands and bringing your back perpendicular to the floor.

 

Variation:  Supported Headstand with knees tucked

A person wearing bright magenta yoga tights practices a variation of Supported Headstand. She is entering the pose by tucking her knees into her torso, before extending her feet up to the ceiling.
(Photo: Andrew Clark. Clothing: Calia )

Practice finding your balance and equilibrium with your knees bent and your legs tucked as close to the torso as possible. Keep a neutral spine.

Preparatory Poses

Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose)

Forearm Plank

Dolphin Pose

Counter Poses

Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend)

Balasana (Child’s Pose)

Contributors include Alexandria Crow.