For so many of us, the only thing standing in between ourselves and an amazingly empowering headstand is fear. In a society where we all have a little bit of a control freak hidden away, the thought of falling out of a headstand is just unfathomable. As such, no matter how hard we try or how on spot our form is, this fear of falling keeps us from going all in and upside down.
Now there are some people who don't ever let fear get in their way; they set a goal and go for it. I assure you, I am not one of those people. It took me years...YEARS...before I decided to stop letting my fear of falling control me. Seriously, years. After a few years' of practicing yoga, I would see folks brand new to yoga waltz into class and pop up into a headstand their first or second try. For a few minutes, I'd be inspired to give it a try, but inevitably, once my head was on the mat and my hips closing in on my shoulders, I'd be overwhelmed by fear and opt for another pose instead. What was I scared of? Ohh, I don't know...smushing my neck, falling and embarrassing myself terribly, falling and breaking my face, or worse, falling on someone else and breaking their face...the list of valid concerns is endless.
Over time, I finally did it (wooo!!) and here's how...
Set a SMART Goal
One day, I decided that I really wanted to go upside down and that I would no longer allow my fear of falling stop me. As such, I promised myself that I would spend the next year of my practice working into a headstand. Obviously, that's a goal, but what makes it SMART? A SMART goal is Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and Time-Delimited. Making your goal realistic and time-delimited is crucial--these really help you be accountable to yourself. For example, if you've never done a headstand before, saying that you want to pike up into a headstand next week may not exactly be realistic since you likely won't have the necessary tools and training to do so. Knowing myself and how truly afraid I was, I thought a year was a good time frame because it allowed ample time to learn the proper preparations and recovery and it was plenty of time to practice at my own pace.
Ask For Help
Once I set a goal, I made this goal known to my yoga teachers. My teachers were always asking students to let them know if we wanted a "spot" or "assist" during Finishing Poses at the end of class, but I was always too bashful to ask them to help me into headstand. Again, I made the conscious decision to let go of my ego and just ask for help. All it took was a few minutes with my teacher watching me attempt a headstand and they gave me some tips specific to me and where I was in the process, which really helped me gain confidence in my headstand.
If you don't have access to a teacher, you can ask a friend, family member, spouse, etc. to be an extra set of eyes for you while you practice at a wall so that they can tell you if/how your hips are stacking over your shoulders.
Start At A Wall
This one is a bit controversial in the yoga world. One school of thought is that if you learn to headstand at a wall, you will become dependent on the wall and you won't develop the body/muscle memory from going upside down. I think that is a very valid argument, but for me, it's simply not the case. I would have never felt comfortable even trying a headstand in the middle of a room without first feeling comfortable at a wall. Using a wall helped me learn what it felt like to have my hips directly over my shoulders, something that is crucial to getting and staying upside down. The wall was also an amazing safety net - I knew that if I lost my balance and fell backwards, the wall would catch me.
I started by going into an upside down egg (we'll go more into this on Monday) with my back against the wall, then I'd move to extending my legs overhead. Eventually, I'd play with floating one foot, then the other a couple inches away from the wall. And then I'd start inching my head a little further away from the wall so that the wall was still there if I needed it, but not nearly as close. Most importantly, this process of slowly moving away from the wall gave me something to focus my mind on other than my fear!
Practice Away From The Wall In An Open Space
Once you're comfortable (or at least no longer petrified) with headstanding at the wall, slowly start to inch away from the wall until you find yourself in a headstand in the middle of the room. I started doing this at home on carpet in an open space where I knew that if I did fall, there was nothing around me to land on. Once I felt comfortable (or, again, at least no longer petrified) with headstanding in the middle of an empty room, I decided to try my headstand in a yoga class, surrounded by yogis. I'd start closer to the back of my mat so that if I fell forwards, I had plenty of room on my mat to do so. Lastly, I would do a body check each time before committing to going upside down, to ensure that my body was ready for a headstand on that particular day. I still do this :)
Learn To Fall
Another trick to help overcome your fear of falling is to learn to fall. Obviously, you should definitely be careful here and use caution as you fall, but there is no better way to overcome your fear of falling than to simply fall. A good rule of thumb is that if you notice yourself about to fall to one side, fall to your dominant side. When you do this, you'll pull out some cat-like reflexes and your feet will almost always find the floor before some other part of your body does.
Another thing to try is a somersault...you know, those fun twirly things we used to in P.E. when we were little? It's a little strange and unfamiliar to do, but as long as you don't have neck issues, you should give it a try! You'll be surprised at what your body remembers from being a kid and at the very least, you'll have fun getting back in touch with your inner child.
I somehow talked my friend, Lauren, into demonstrating a somersault for you in the video below (it was a little too hard to talk and demo at the same time). Notice how as she starts to wobble and tilt backwards, she curls her knees into her chest, draws her belly in, and rolls right on out of her headstand. It is just as easy and fun as it looks!
Have another tip or trick on how you overcame your fear of falling? Leave it in the comments below!
I’m Anahita Reilly, a Type-A, native Northern Virginian, happiness lover. This blog evolved out of my longstanding desire to share this beautiful thing called yoga with others. Click here to read more...