How to Teach a Headstand ~to General Public

By now, we all know that every body is different and we can’t really make a general statement about any poses. BUT there is a way to safely teach it to MOST people.

And the way I teach it is the age old, method that was passed down from my teachers and my teachers were taught by other teachers and on and on. PROGRESSIVE is the key. I start from simple movements that are related to the headstand, continue to repeat then move to the grand finale. It’s one of the most tested and true way to teach adults. Adults learn from what’s called repetitive motor learning.

One thing as a teacher to remember is that when you mention inversion, inevitably everyone is scared and/or excited to come in regardless of their safety awareness in their bodies. Every time I introduce an inversion, I mention three things:

  1. “IF and ONLY IF you have a regular practice of a headstand (in this case), you can come into it.” Then I further clarify.
  2. “And by regular practice, I mean minimum 2-3 times of practice of a headstand (again, in this case) per week and you are ABSOLUTELY SURE THAT YOU WILL NOT BE HAZARDOUS TO OTHERS 100%. Then, please come into it on your own. Otherwise, let’s go step by step with me.”
  3. “Also, NEVER JUMP into a headstand” Unlike handstand, most heads are planted on the floor and I don’t recommend jumping into a headstand. In fact, I actually forbid it in my classes.

This crystal clear instruction is absolutely necessary for me if I’m teaching a group class as I often don’t have control over every student in such a situation.

Don’t be scared to say no to certain students who are practicing in a harmful (to them and others) way. At the end of the day, you are leading this class. You need to be assertive at times to keep the safety of your class.

So here are the steps I take to teach a headstand.

  • Child’s pose with hands in prayer
Child’s pose with prayer
  • Crescent lunge with cactus arms
Lunge with cactus arms
  • Dolphin pose
Dolphin pose

Then here are the actual steps I take to teach.

  • I stop the class and let everyone sit down
  • Grab both elbows with hands (to let them know where their elbows should be when they get down on the floor)
Grab arms
  • Interlace fingers with the last pinky finger inside the palm (because that’s how I do it but there are many other ways), get them to squeeze the sides of their heads with forearms
Interlaced fingers with the last pinky finger folded in
  • I show them two ways: Shoulders closer to ears, and farther from the ears. Let them feel the muscles just under the armpits (Lattisimus Dorsi) working
  • Show them where the top of the crown is
  • Then get down on the floor to show “the rounded harmful back” and “this is the point of lifting the shoulders up” looks
Rounded Back – harmful for neck and spine
Great strong arms and long spine
  • Then lift up into a dolphin variation pose. At this point, I invite many students to stay here. Three points to emphasise, 1. keep forearms PRESSED to the floor, 2. inner belly lifts to the ceiling (even if knees are bent), 3. continue to breathe (many students stop breathing)
Great strong arms and long spine
  • After a few breaths, I bring everyone to come back to child’s pose
  • Then I let them start over again. Once they lift their knees into a dolphin variation pose as above, my next instruction follows.
  • After five breaths, I ask everyone to lift their heads off the floor for a moment. If they can, they can move their feet closer to their noses. Notice how my hips lift up higher as I bring my feet closer
Bring the feet closer
  • If they can keep testing with “lift the head off the floor” method, they can continue until their feet naturally lift off the ground without jumping
“Upside down” chair pose
  • Then they can come into an “upside down” chair pose and hold
  • After that, they can start to slowly lift their legs up to the sky but I recommend holding this “upside down” chair pose for a while and come back into a child’s pose

As a counter pose and cool down, I complete the practice with either shoulder stands or Viparita Karani on the wall or the mat. I may add a fish pose with a bolster to release some possible tensions in their necks.

So, that’s roughly how it goes down for me when I teach headstand. It’s a great exhilarating pose even for beginners. Because it’s taught in stages, everyone gets to come into some stage of this pose. Of course, you want to take all the precautions by asking for previous injuries etc, but assuming that all necessary steps have been taken, it is a great pose to teach for all levels.

How about you? How would you teach it? What would be your challenges? Would love to hear from you.


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About the author: Tomomi Becot

Tomomi is the owner of Flying Elephant Yoga in Pulau Weh, Sumatra, Indonesia. She started practicing yoga when she first moved to Canada as a teenager in 2000. She then became a certified yoga teacher in 2008 and has been an integral part of extensive yoga teacher training programs both at a 200hr and 500hr level. After teaching and traveling in North America, Mexico, Australia, and Bali, Indonesia, she established her own independent yoga school in 2014. Her classes are based on vinyasa or flow mixed with her own personality and experience, and various styles of yoga she studied along her journey. With the background of vinyasa, power vinyasa, yin, pre- and post-natal yoga, she encourages her students to observe their minds while nurturing their own individuality. Her classes are about honoring both the traditional and the modern, physical and mental aspects of yoga.