Preparations and pre-requisites for headstand:
In traditional yoga teaching you could only progress to a more advanced posture after you had satisfactorily demonstrated to your teacher that you could do the postures that have come before it. This guarantees that the new more advanced posture can be performed safely. To be adequately prepared for the Headstand (Sirsasana) you have to have first mastered the ‘Shoulderstand posture’ (Salamba sarvangâsana). To be adequately prepared for the ‘Shoulderstand posture’ (Salamba sarvangâsana) and variations of the ‘Plough posture’ (Halâsana) the following postures should have been mastered first:
- ‘Legs up the wall posture’ (Salamba urdhva prasarita padâsana)
- ‘Unsupported arms-up bridge posture’ (Niralamba urdhva hasta setu bandhâsana)
- ‘Back-spinal-lengthening forward-bending posture’ (Pascimotanâsana)
- ‘Toes-to-floor unsupported half sit-up two-knees-to-chest posture’ (Padangustha niralamba uttana supta pavan muktâsana)
- ‘Front-spinal-lengthening backward-bending posture’ (Purvotanâsana)
Also to be safe to be able to do headstand I believe it is important to recognise that in many more traditional sequences, such as the ashtanga vinyasa sequences taught by Sri K Pattabhi Jois (Guruji), headstand was taught last, and one thing that Guruji was very big on was that you should not attempt any posture in his sequence till the ones before that posture were mastered. Hence to really be safe in headstand (sirsasana) you should first have mastered shoulder stand (sarvangasaana), and to be safe in shoulder stand you need to have mastered full forward bends and backbending postures too. In fact to be really fair one needs to acknowledge that the first postures in a sequence like the ashtanga vinyasa practices taught by Sri K Pattabhi Jois are those in the Salute to the Sun (surya namaskar) and the third posture is the preparation to a handstand (lolasana) that comes just before the smooth transition to the ‘push up’ posture (chataranga dandasaana). Lolasana is fact such an important posture that it should in fact be practiced twice for every vinyasa (‘up-dog’ to ‘down-dog movement) in the traditional series of ashtanga vinyasa yoga. Hence, I believe it is therefore fair to say that a really important pre-requisite of being able to do a safe headstand is lolasana, and if for some reason the wrists are not able to do this arm balancing posture then at least you should be able to have the abdominal (core) control to do similar supine postures such as a half-situp (similar to ardha navasana in BKS Iyengar’s ‘Light on Yoga’)
If you want to see more on the importance of Lolasaana in your practice please refer to the Yoga Synergy YouTube channel and in particular our video on the essence of vinyasa yoga.
This is Sayanasana: Sri BKS Iyengar first showed us many years ago and he was a master. It is hard to hold it very long unless I practice it on a soft surface. You can learn it one elbow at a time from forearm balance (Pinca mayurasana). By lifting only one hand off the flow at once it becomes quite fun and accessible and it really helps you to develop strength, balance and stamina in forearm balance. I can’t emphasise enough how important it is to be able to do a free standing forearm balance if you wish to be able to safely practice headstand. I strongly believe that no one should practice headstand unless forearm balance is mastered (and the ability to lift and lower between headstand and forearm balance is also mastered. Otherwise the risk of neck compression damage is just too high. I also don’t think that headstand should be practiced against a wall because if you fall you can crumple into your neck (I have seen people damage their neck this way a number of times before). It is also important to learn to lift slowly (not jump) into headstand (with knees bent is far safer than knees straight at least while you are first coming up) and therefore if you can already slowly lift up to handstand that prepares you for safe headstands too. I love practicing headstand but there so many things you need to be able to do first to make it safe so I teach it to only few of my students. Another important pre-requisite is to be able to lower or at least comfortably ‘fall’ from headstand into a headstand back arch (dwi pada viparita dandasana). Yet another prerequisite for headstand is the backwards and forwards rolling somersault on the neck (chakrasana). In addition, to really do headstand you need to eventually take all the weight on your head and although the bones and muscles of the neck can eventually take the weight it is much better if you can do it with a relaxed neck that is firmed by Prana in the simplest form of intra abdominal pressure created by the diaphragm that has been directed towards the neck.