Hands down, a full headstand is the pose I’m least likely to teach in a yoga class.
Truly, I’d rather teach the one-armed handstand any day over leading a class into the headstand. Why?
Even if supported against a wall, even given very specific instructions and individualized attention, most people don’t know the most basic, and most important component: whether they have any issues with their neck vertebrae that might be aggravated with putting virtually all their body weight on the top of their noggin.
And then, beyond those issues, many people have sheer terror of going upside down especially if it involves balance. And should a yoga class stress people out? Methinks you’ve got your stress needs covered outside the class.
This is why I love the baby headstand: you get 90% of the benefit of a headstand, a much gentler position for your neck, and none of the “Oh, my God! You’re really gonna make me balance upside down?” terror that strikes the heart of beginners everywhere.
So, in 3 easy steps:
1. Kneel on your mat. (You could also fold your mat so it’s extra cushy for your head.) Set your elbows down a little wider than your shoulders. Interlace your fingers. Breathe.
2. Placing your hands at the back of your head (but with the pinky fingers still touching the mat) position the top of your head on the mat. Now, if you have issues with your neck, or feel like going any further wouldn’t feel good, you can stay here and go no further. That’d be the baby Baby Headstand.
3. Or you could straighten out your knees to where the weight of your body is well divided between your feet, your elbows, and the top of your head. Keep your back straight. Keep your legs active. Breathe. Stay for ten long breaths (or fewer if you don’t feel like doing it that long).
Benefits: A mind-clearing position that gently strengthens the neck without stress…physical or emotional.
Avoid if: As in the standard headstand, if you have high blood pressure or potential issues of retinal detachment, you’re better off skipping this position, or going only as far as step 2. Also, if your weight is such that the position doesn’t feel good, or if your neck just doesn’t feel happy with it, also stay at step 2.
Final thoughts: Other uses for this pose include those times when you’re baffled by some issue at work and need a fresh perspective on the subject (just be sure to close your office door first). You could also paint letters of the alphabet in descending size on your toes and use this pose to check your vision. Whatever you do, don’t assume that “baby headstand” means you can put your baby in this position. Their noggins are still soft and taking shape, and you don’t want them to go through life with a nickname like “Flathead.”
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Ed: Bryonie Wise