Want to learn more about Sirsasana, aka Headstand? In this post, I share the benefits of Sirsasana, a complete pose breakdown, contraindications, myths, modifications and more.
When learning to balance in Shalamba Sirsasana it can be helpful to use a wall to support you. But the most important piece of advice I can give you on your journey to this pose is this: don’t kick up!
Too often students learn to practice Headstand at the wall by kicking up to the wall. But what do you think happens when you come into the middle of the room to practice there? You kick up — and over! There goes your any confidence you’d built up at the wall!
Instead please please please practice lifting your legs, one at a time to start, slowly into the pose. This careful effort will pay huge dividends in the end. To help in this journey check out the recommendations I suggest as Modifications below.
The most useful modification for learning to steadily lift your legs is to set up with your feet on several blocks. This helps your hips come over your shoulders more, takes the strain out of your hamstrings, allows you to lengthen your spine, and means you have to lift your legs less (because they’re already lifted up onto the blocks).
Over time you can take blocks away, so that your feet get closer and closer to the ground, until one day you are able to lift from the ground, all the way up into Headstand.
And then? Then you can start to practice bringing both legs up together! That’s one of the things I love about yoga — there are endless opportunities to learn more and to expand our practices.
Whatever stage you’re at in your practice, Light on Yoga is an invaluable tool. I highly recommend you invest in a copy of the book to have as a reference for your practice.
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Sirsasana Quick Facts
|Sanskrit||Sirsasana / Shirsasana / Shalamba Sirsasana|
|Meaning||Sa (pronounced sha) means together with or accompanied by.|
Alamba means a prop or a support.
Shalamba means supported or with support.
Sirsa means head.
Full name translates as Supported Headstand.
Commonly known as Headstand.
There are several variations of Headstand. The other most common variation is Sirsasana 2, also called Tripod Headstand. Don’t miss my Tripod Headstand post.
Note: I’m only including the scientifically supported benefits of yoga poses. There are plenty of claims about other benefits of each pose (from the plausible to the magical to the ridiculous) out there if you want to hunt them down. I feel that that pseudo-scientific claims only serve to harm the yoga community in general, so choose not to give them further airtime.
When performed with proper alignment, the common benefits of Sirsasana are:
- Relieve some neck injuries and realign the vertebral column.
- Strengthen the supporting muscles of the spine, shoulders and neck.
- Relieve headaches in some students.
- Clear sinuses in some students.
- Improve overall balance.
- Tone abdominal muscles.
- Strengthen much of your muscular system, including the muscles of your back, shoulders, neck, legs and core.
Misconceptions & Myths About Headstand
Inversions and the lymphatic system
Despite what you may read, inversions do not cleanse your lymphatic system. The lymphatic system filters bacteria, abnormal cells, etc from your blood, and sends the clean fluid back towards your heart. The direction of flow in your lymphatic system cannot be reversed.
Inversions and menstruation
It is often repeated by yoga teachers, and in yoga texts, the women should never do an inversion when they are menstruating. Usually, the teacher doesn’t give a reason or any kind of explanation.
There are lots of theories floating around, including ideas involving “reversal of menstrual flow”, “bad blood”, endometriosis, apana, and more. None of it stands up under scrutiny.
If you don’t want to invert when menstruating, that’s up to you. If you want to, that’s also up to you. Inverting, just like everything else in yoga, is a choice. It’s your choice.
There are a lot of things written about yoga that have no basis in fact. What some yogis write about the benefits of Headstand is no exception. This blog post from Seattle Yoga News debunks a few of those myths.
Precautions & Contraindications
Despite Mr Iyengar referring to Headstand as “a basic posture” in Light on Yoga, it is generally considered an advanced asana. When learning this pose it is useful to practice it in the corner of a room using the walls for support and under the guidance of an experienced teacher.
The pose should be avoided by people with:
- high blood pressure
- heart palpitations
- glaucoma and other eye problems
- hiatus hernia
- cervical spine instability
Consult your doctor before practicing Sirsasana if:
- You have back or neck injuries.
- You have a heart condition.
Proceed with caution if:
- You get headaches regularly. Sirsasana can help reduce headaches but it can also make them worse.
- You are pregnant. If you have a regular practice of Headstand you can continue this pose as late into your pregnancy as you feel comfortable. However, it is not recommended for pregnant women who are new to the pose.
Sirsasana Pose Breakdown
How to do Sirsasana 1 / Headstand
- Start on all fours (Bharmanasana).
- Place your elbows on the ground, with your elbows below your shoulders (and not wider than your shoulders).
- Interlace your fingers. Make a tight grip with your fingers.
- Place your head on your mat so that back of your head touches the inside of your hands.
- Tuck your toes and lift your knees to straighten your legs.
- Walk your feet in until your hips are over your shoulders. Take care to lengthen your spine and work to keep it straight.
- Bend your right knee and bring the heel towards your sit bone/buttocks. Push down through your forearms for support.
- Roll onto the tiptoes of your left foot.
- Keep your right heel towards your buttocks. Bend your left knee and bring your left heel towards your sit bone/buttocks.
- Keep your knees bent and bring them together to touch. Squeeze your thighs towards each other and push down through your forearms for support.
- Keep your knees bent and keep your heels towards your buttocks but stretch your knees up towards the ceiling.
- Keep squeezing your legs towards each other. Straighten your legs up towards the ceiling.
- Press the inner edges of your feet together and squeeze your legs together. Make your legs like one leg.
- Floint your feet (this is a yoga term that means halfway between flexed and pointed, aka Barbie feet). Spread your toes.
- Steady your breath, soften your gaze.
- This is Sirsasana, or Headstand.
- To come down, exit as your entered: bring your heels to your buttocks, stretching your knees up, then curl your belly in to bring your knees down, place your feet on the ground, walk your feet out.
- Come into Balasana (Child’s Pose) to rest for a moment before sitting up.
Note: Once you are comfortable going up in this way you can begin to practice lifting your legs up straight and hugging towards each other. This is a more advanced entry, and takes focus, practice, and patience.
Once you are steady in this pose, Sirsasana 1 can be held for 5–7 minutes.
Modifications & Variations
If you’re new to the pose:
- The simplest modification is to keep your feet on the ground. Working to lengthen your hamstrings and strengthen your back can take a lot of work, so don’t be in a rush to bring your feet off the ground.
- If you are feeling adventurous, you can start by bringing one foot off the ground and using the other foot to roll onto your tip-toes. This helps move your hips over your shoulders more, which is essential for this pose. Then bring that foot down and switch sides.
If your elbows keep moving wide:
- You can add a strap around your upper arms when you are learning to hold your Headstand. This has the advantage of preventing your elbows from going wider than your shoulders (elbows under shoulders is optimal alignment for the most efficient use of effort).
- It is worth noting that it can be awkward to get into and out of the pose with a strap around your upper arms, and it can teach you to press out into the strap, instead of engaging your arms and shoulders to hold the form.
If your back rounds:
- If your back rounds as you walk your feet in to prepare to go up in this pose, do not go up. Instead, work to strengthen your back (your erector spinae muscles particularly) so that you can keep you back straight and long before you lift your legs. Shalambhasana (Locust Pose) is a great strengthened of your erector spinae muscles.
- Place yoga blocks under your feet. This will help lift your hips up and forward (closer to over your shoulders) while keeping your back straight, which make accessing the pose easier.
To learn how to slowly lift your legs up:
- Place several yoga blocks under your feet. Practice lifting one leg until it is straight up, tone your core, push through your forearms, and the play with lifting the other leg. Keep actively engaging your legs towards each other the whole time.
- Once you have learned to practice the careful entry with the support of several blocks, take one block away, and learn control at this lower height. Then keep taking away one block at a time, bringing your feet closer and closer to the ground. One day you will able to lift from the ground all the way up into Headstand.
If the top of your head hurts:
- If practicing Headstand hurts the top of your head you can double your mat up, or place a yoga blanket on your mat (but do not fold the blanket too thick as this can make your head/neck unstable).
- It is possible that if your head hurts you may be placing your head on your mat incorrectly. The correct placement is to place the part of your head on the ground that you would naturally touch if you placed your hand on top of your head without thinking about it too much.
- If you are too close to your forehead or too far towards the back of your head, you can experience head and neck pain and it can be dangerous for your neck.
Use the wall for support:
- Practicing Headstand in the corner of a room and using two walls to support your shoulders can help prevent excessive rounding of your back (which is a common misalignment when you are new to this pose). Also, the support of the wall gives you more confidence to lift your feet and legs up.
- When practicing in the corner of a room, or at the wall, have your head roughly 2–3 inches away from the wall/corner. Any more than this will lead to excessive rounding of the back, which can cause you to roll towards the back of your head, putting unwanted pressure on the back our your cervical spine (neck).
- Place a yoga bolster between you and the wall to help keep your spine straight.
Use the wall to come down:
- When practicing at a corner or against a wall you can use the support of the wall to practice coming down with your legs together and straight. Once you have learned how to come down with control, you can begin practicing going up with your legs together and straight.
Poses Related to Headstand
Preparatory Poses for Headstand
- Prasarita Padottanasana / Wide-Leg Forward Fold
- Paschimottanasana / Intense Stretch of the West Pose
- Virasana / Hero’s Pose
- Hanumanasana / Full Splits
Poses to Take Your Practice Further
- The Sirsasana Cycle (see Light on Yoga)
- Sirsasana 2 / Tripod Headstand
- Headstand variations like Sirsasana 3, Sirsasana 4, Eka Pada Sirsanasa, etc.
Related Posts & Videos
Gear and Resources for this Pose
- BKS Iyengar’s Light on Yoga
- Darren Rhodes Yoga Resource Practice Manual
- Stephen’s Favourite Eco-Friendly Yoga Mat
- Cork Yoga Blocks
- Organic Cotton Yoga Straps
- Organic Cotton or Hemp Yoga Bolsters
- Machine Washable Vegan Yoga Blankets
- FeetUp Trainer Headstand Yoga Stool
Save 10% – Yoloha yoga gear, including cork yoga mats and blocks, organic cotton yoga straps, bolsters and more, is 10% off when you use our code adventure10 at checkout!
A Final Note About Sirsasana
Though it is often taught in beginner’s classes, Headstand or Sirsasana, is not really a beginner’s yoga pose. It can be challenging for many reasons, including fear, tight hamstrings, lack of strength and more. However, it’s also a rewarding pose that can bring many benefits once you have the basics down.
Namaste OMies, Stephen
I hope this post has been helpful in expanding your possibilities with Headstand. It’s my goal to inspire you to explore your yoga practice more deeply while enabling you to cultivate the strength and clarity needed to live your life adventure to the fullest!