Headstand: a lesson in patience
Headstand is like the grandpappy of inversions. Unlike the 5-year old exuberance of handstand, or the slightly more moderated enthusiasm of forearm stand, headstand evokes a deep seated patience and – dare I say – necessary dignity in the practitioner.
Kicking up into headstand is a big ol’ no-no, primarily because the head is rooted into the floor and any instability in the body can translate into torquing of the delicate cervical spine. Unlike other inversions (where we can willy-nilly get ourselves up there without too much of a problem), handstand requires us to move slowly from a deep connection to our core. Without momentum, how do we safely get up into the darn thing?
Well, the point is, maybe we won’t. Maybe not today. But by calling upon our reserves of patience and a deeply felt commitment to process, we can eventually find our way into a headstand that is light, stable, and sustainable.
Step 1: Set the foundation
If this pose is new to you, practice at the wall until you find your inverted center. Interlace your hands up to the webbing and tuck your bottom pinky in so that the foundation is flat. Keep a small space in the center of your hands so that the bones of your arms creates a straight line through your to your knuckles. Place your elbows directly beneath your shoulders. Look at your wrists. See how you can roll them in and out? Instead, position the wrist so that the inner wrist is stacked directly onto the outer wrist.
Place the top of your head on the floor between your hands and pause to make sure that you are really on the plumb line top of your head. Your chin should be level with the floor and the natural curve of your cervical spine should be maintained.
Step 2: Cultivate stability
Lift your shoulderblades away from your ears and hug the scapulae onto your back. Press down firmly into your forearms as you curl your toes under and lift your hips. Press into your forearms to de-weight your head, and make sure that you can lighten the burden on your neck by using the strength of your shoulder girdle.
From here, walk your feet towards your arms, continuing to lift your shoulder blades into the back of your body. Press down through your forearms and lift your hips high into the air.
Step 3: Taking flight
Pressing into your forearms, draw one knee into your chest. Hug your knee in towards your face until your hips move past your shoulders and you can de-weight your other toes. This is not time for jumping. Practice finding the subtle lifting and gathering of your core that you need to stabilize your center and give your legs freedom. Often this step is the one requiring the most patience, so take your time so that you can organically find the opening and stability that you need to unearth your feet.
Once you have found lightness in both legs, bring both feet to the wall above you and slide your feet up. Press down firmly into your forearms so that your neck can continue to be spacious. Breathe smoothly and calmly. When you are ready, come out the way that you came in. Slide your feet down the wall, then very slowly bring one foot at a time back to the floor.
- Upper arms: flexion and external rotation
- Scapular stabilization
- Midline/Neutral legs
When preparing the body for headstand, consider the benefits of some of the following poses:
- Standing twists (Scapular stabilization; midline/neutral legs)
- Small backbends (Scapular stabilization; midline/neutral legs)
- Prasarita Padottanasana (Hamstrings; midline/ neutral legs) with or without a twist
- Crescent with a backbend (Midline/neutral legs; scapular stabilization; arms)
- Gomukhasana arms (Flexion and external rotation of upper arm)
- Dolphin: an excellent preparation and modification of headstand. Practitioners should practice dolphin until they have enough scapular stability and upper body strength to hold the pose for a minute.