Rare is the yoga teacher who actually teaches Headstand (Salamba Sirsasana). It’s not a complicated posture, but it does run the risk of neck injury—which is probably why so many teachers shy away from it. Learn the correct way to teach Headstand in 10 steps, so that your students can benefit from this “king of all asanas.”
Headstand is best taught one-on-one. If you are teaching a group, ask them to observe quietly as you guide students into the inversion one by one. This might take a good chunk of time, but your students will be grateful for the opportunity to finally learn this undertaught pose.
Start out by giving your students a demo. Alternatively, have one of your students demo the pose for you if you are sure they are already Headstand-competent. This pose feels scary for first-timers, so the opportunity to observe exactly how it’s done will quell a lot of fears.
Have your student tuck in their T-shirt and double up their mat to cushion their head from the floor. They should start by sitting in Thunderbolt pose about halfway down their mat.
Now for arm placement. If their elbows are too wide, their Headstand will be wobbly. The trick is to have them hold opposite elbows. Then direct them to place their elbows on the floor, release their hands and interlace their fingers to form a bowl shape. Make sure they don’t move their elbows when they release their hands. This system guarantees proper arm placement.
Now for your placement. Your body will serve as a human wall and ensure that your student doesn’t fall backward. The last thing you want is for them to topple over, which will ruin their confidence in the pose.
Stand with your right foot to the outside of their upper right arm, and your left foot at a diagonal in front of their hands. Your torso will be at a slight angle to their legs once they invert.
Why this stance? Placing your foot just outside of their upper arm ensures that the student won’t splay their elbows to the sides—a Headstand no-no. You are close enough that your student literally can’t fall over, and you are also at a perfect angle to help them lift their feet upward.
Next is head placement—perhaps the trickiest part of Headstand. Once they are inverted, they should be balancing on the spot just between their hairline and crown. But first, they need to put the area just behind their hairline on the floor. As they enter the pose, their head will roll slightly forward so they are balancing on the sweet spot. Make sure that girls move their ponytails or buns aside.
Once the student’s head is on the ground, tell them to curl their toes under, straighten their legs, and walk their feet in. Your wording is important here; use simple, straightforward cues. Their hips should be over their shoulders.
Before the next step, check that your student’s head is at a proper angle. The ears should be perpendicular to the ground. If they are at a diagonal, they need to adjust their head placement.
Now it’s time to balance. Cue your student to bring their right knee into their chest. Keeping your stance strong and stable with bent knees, gently grasp or cup their right ankle with your right hand to help them balance. Then cue them to bring their left knee into their chest. Lightly grasp their left ankle. Here, you are preventing them from falling either forward or backward.
Watch out for flailing legs. Every now and then, you will get a student who haphazardly kicks up into Headstand. You need to be ready to catch them while making sure you don’t get kicked in the face! Reminders to make slow, focused movements will help.
Instruct your student to straighten their legs together. Carefully guide their feet upward as they do so. Ask them to focus at one point on the floor, about 3 feet away. This drishti, or focused gaze, helps with balance.
If this is their first time, or one of their first times, practicing Headstand, they will probably be wobbly. Keep your right hand on the far side of their ankles, over the big toes, or even in between their feet as they squeeze your hands. You are not holding them up, but giving them just enough space to find their sense of balance without falling over.
Remember that your body is acting as an uber-solid wall here if your student topples toward you.
Simple words are great when teaching Headstand because flipping upside down is so disorienting for yoga beginners; they won’t be able to comprehend complicated instructions.
Use short, direct cues like:
Count backward from 10 aloud, so they know exactly how long they will be inverted—10 seconds is plenty for beginners. Then cue your student to slowly lower one leg at a time to the floor. Have them rest in Child’s pose (Balasana) for at least 30 seconds, so they don’t get dizzy from a head rush.
As for post-Headstand protocol, this posture should always be followed by Shoulderstand (Sarvangasana). Headstand is a heating pose, while Shoulderstand is a cooling pose. The two pair up like yin and yang for balance of mind and body.
If your student has any kind of neck complaint, either immediately after Headstand or the day after, their alignment was off. Headstand should never hurt. If they want to give it another shot, wait a few days until the pain is gone completely.
If you can teach Headstand properly, everybody wins. Your students will receive all of the brain-nourishing effects of the pose and build their yogic self-confidence while you quickly gain the trust needed between teacher and student. They know you will be there to catch them if they fall, literally.