How do I do headstand without hurting my neck?

Headstand is actually one of the simplest inversions out there (okay, legs up the wall pose is simpler!), but many people do the pose wrong, leading to neck or eye injury. There are several key alignment points to ensure you do not hurt your neck while practicing headstand. Try these tips:

(For this tutorial, we’ll use traditional headstand, not tripod headstand, though the cues are largely the same!)

  • Start by placing forearms no wider than your shoulders. If you allow your arms to go any wider, you will lose the strength in your shoulder girdle. Need some help? Take a strap, and measure a loop the width of your shoulders. Put this loop around your upper arms to keep you from splaying your arms out wide. Strength in the shoulders will keep you from using your neck for support (a no-no!)
  • Start in dolphin pose. This is a short down-dog position with the forearms on the ground:
  • Next, place the top of your head on the ground in between your hands. This is the most important part for neck support! If you roll too much toward your forehead, you will have an arch in the back of your neck while upside down. Instead, roll slightly toward the crown of your head. You should feel your neck straighten out, though a small arch is natural for the neck.
  • Feel for one long line of strength from the shoulders, through the neck, right to the place where your head is contacting the Earth. If you feel as if your shoulders are connected right down toward the ground, you have the right position:
  • When it is time to begin lifting the legs into the inversion, you have a few options. Start by lifting one leg up, then bring the other up to meet the first. This first option is best if you are still working on the core strength to bring the legs up together. You can also tuck the legs in and bring them up – SLOWLY – at the same time.DO NOT kick into headstand. Kicking into handstand or pincha is fine, you are using your arms to support you. If you overkick, you will simply cartwheel out. Kicking into headstand presents different risks, including neck injury if you kick too hard. Further, by kicking up, you are putting force into the curvature of your neck, making it work. Your neck should never feel like it is working in headstand, as the shoulders are the real support system.

Follow these tips, and you can avoid neck pain in headstand. Take it slow, concentrate on shoulder strength and alignment. Above all, avoid collapsing into the neck by rolling onto the front of the head. It will feel wrong at first, but learning to stand on the upper back of your head, near the “crown chakra” location, will ultimately allow you to enjoy this “King of all Asanas!”

3 thoughts on “How do I do headstand without hurting my neck?

  1. Please be careful teaching headstands with a flat neck, one should keep the natural lordodic curve in the neck to allow for greater stability. Flattening out the neck puts the neck in flexion which can be a problem with disc injuries. The weight of the head should be directed toward the forhead, not the top of the head. Try it, you will find such ease in your head stand and less pain and injury to the neck.

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