Headstand is nothing short of a wonder pose.

It rejuvenates the brain, improves circulation, encourages a more efficient flow of tissue fluids to the veins and lymph channels, heightens sensory function, and brings an overall sense of invigoration.

No wonder Swami Sivananda called headstand “a panacea, a cure-all for all diseases”!

Unfortunately… many yoga teachers are afraid to teach headstand, and even more yoga students are afraid to practice it. The reason: fear of neck injury. This sort of makes sense, given that the neck appears to be a delicate structure. In reality, however, the neck is absolutely strong enough to uphold the weight of the body.

And most importantly, the trick to avoiding neck injury lies in proper head placement.

First, let’s take a look at the structure of the neck. Although its vertebral bodies and intervertebral disks are relatively small, they are considerably wide. C1 (the uppermost vertebra) spans nearly the entire width of the neck. The other 6 cervical vertebrae are only slightly less wide. Plus, they’re reinforced with the support of the intervertebral discs, vertebral arches, muscles, joints, and connective tissue. The neck is a strong structure and one that is, in fact, capable of supporting the weight of the body.

Neck hyperextension in headstand is another common fear. But because the neck can extend 20 degrees by rotating the skull on its axis — no extension between the thoracic and cervical vertebrae needed — hyperextension isn’t an issue. If someone, however, was to hyperextend the neck in headstand, the pain would urge them to come down.

There’s a Headstand for Everyone

Just like every other yoga posture, headstand looks slightly different on each of us. One of the reasons is that there are 2 ways to place the head on the floor. This gives us 2 different headstands: the crown headstand and the bregma headstand.

No matter which you prefer, follow these instructions for an injury-free headstand.

The Bregma Headstand

In this variation, you’ll balance on the bregma. The bregma is 1” forward of the crown (toward the forehead). It’s the meeting place of the sagittal and coronal sutures, and the site of a baby’s soft spot.

You might find it easier to balance on the bregma than you do the crown. The hand placement here offers extra support, and the head positioning requires less muscular engagement to balance.

However, there’s a tendency to backbend in the bregma headstand. If your spine is already bendy and you crave a forward bend afterward, you should probably be practicing the crown headstand instead.

  1. Begin kneeling. Clasp your outer arms, just above your elbows. Place your forearms on the floor in front of you.
  2. Release your hands without moving your elbows. Interlace your fingers to form a cup shape.
  3. Place the bregma — the area 1” forward of the crown — on the floor. Your interlocked fingers should partially cup underneath your head.
  4. Tuck your toes under and lift your hips. If you have open hips and flexible hamstrings, straighten your legs. Otherwise, keep your knees bent.
  5. Walk your feet forward until less than 5% of your bodyweight is supported by your feet.
  6. Draw one knee into your chest, toes pointing toward the sky. Then draw your other knee into your chest. This is a difficult position to hold because it requires a lot of back muscle strength, but you’ll only be here for a moment. Fix your gaze at a point on the floor a few inches ahead of you to balance.
  7. Lift your knees toward the sky while keeping your legs bent. Your thighs will be perpendicular to the earth.
  8. Extend your feet toward the sky. Balance here, pushing your elbows into the earth, drawing your shoulders toward the sky, and keeping nearly all of the weight on your head.
  9. To come out of the pose, slowly lower your legs to the earth one at a time. Rest in child’s pose to prevent dizziness.

The Crown Headstand

In this variation you’ll balance on the crown of your head. To find the crown, sit tall and feel the top of your head. The highest point is the crown. Just beyond this point the skull begins to round downward.

Because of the head positioning, the body will be straighter in this version than in the bregma headstand. The abdominal muscles will naturally tense up to keep the low back flat.

  1. Begin kneeling. Gently hold your outer arms, just above your elbows. Place your forearms on the floor in front of you.
  2. Release your hands without moving your elbows. Interlace your fingers to form a cup shape.
  3. Place the crown of your head on the floor. Your interlocked fingers should brace the back of your head and only slightly underneath it.
  4. Tuck your toes under and lift your hips. If you have open hips and flexible hamstrings, straighten your legs. Otherwise, keep your knees bent.
  5. Walk your feet forward until less than 5% of your bodyweight is supported by your feet.
  6. Draw one knee into your chest, toes pointing toward the sky. Then draw your other knee into your chest. This is a difficult position to hold because it requires a lot of back muscle strength, but you’ll only be here for a moment. Fix your gaze at a point straight ahead to balance.
  7. Lift your knees toward the sky while keeping your legs bent. Your thighs will be perpendicular to the earth.
  8. Extend your feet toward the sky. Balance here, pushing your elbows into the earth, drawing your shoulders toward the sky, and keeping nearly all of the weight on your head.
  9. To come out of the pose, slowly lower your legs to the earth one at a time. Rest in child’s pose to prevent dizziness.

Tips for Neck Safety

The golden rule in any yoga pose is to stop practicing if you feel pain or can no longer breathe steadily. Headstand should absolutely never hurt the neck. If you feel any kind of pain or discomfort come down and rest in child’s pose. Your head position is most likely incorrect. The next time you practice, have a yoga teacher check your alignment.

If you’re able to balance in headstand but aren’t sure if you had proper head placement, try this test once you come down. Kneel on the ground and place the top of your head on the earth. Gently roll it slightly forward, back, and to either side. If you feel any pain, your head position was probably incorrect. Work with a yoga teacher the next time around.

Experiment with both versions of headstand until you decide which works for your body. Once you have the right positioning, you can reap all the benefits of this wonder pose. Enjoy!

Now, do you have any questions? Any stories to share? The comment section below is all yours. 😉

 

Reference:
Coulter, H. David. Anatomy of Hatha Yoga. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, 2010.

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