Has there ever been a yoga pose that you couldn’t do, and then one day, you did it?  There is nothing quite like that feeling.

I find this to be particularly acute when it’s a pose that requires balance, such as half moon pose or headstand.  There is a moment in which you need to lift off, un-tether from the ground, or as I like to say, fly.  Because that’s what it feels like.

It requires a letting go.  A letting go of the ground and the security if offers.  It requires trust and courage, because nothing is guaranteed when you are in one of these poses.  You could tip over.  You could hurt yourself, to be perfectly honest.  Or (worse?) you could embarrass yourself in class.

Do you remember learning to ride a bike without training wheels?  There is a moment when you just needed to go for it, to stop looking for the security provided by the training wheels and instead pedal forward into the unknown, the wobbly insecurity that only smooths out once you get over that terrifying hump.  And when you do, it’s an entirely new feeling and a different state of being.

Something comes into focus in these moments.  It can feel like the world got turned upside down, and it did.  In that unfamiliar state, you are alert in a way you weren’t before, and you are present in the moment.

For kids, learning to ride a bike is a big deal for their growing up.  A new stage has been reached, a new identity even.

And just like a child can become a “big kid” in a moment’s time, just by riding that bike, a grown up can, in a small way, become a new person when they let go, lift off, and fly in one of these challenging yoga poses.

It is empowering, and that is one of the reasons why I encourage students to go for these poses.  Sure, there is fear, trepidation, or perhaps apathy or doubt to overcome.  But ask anyone who has gone through the process of learning to do a headstand: it’s worth working through those feelings.

I’ve never met anyone, in the yoga world or otherwise, who learned to do something challenging and new and then looked back and said, “I wish I hadn’t learned to do that.”

So work within a safe context, but take a risk.  Balance those apparent opposites.  Use your teacher to help you feel safe and secure (that’s what they’re there for), and challenge yourself to go one step (or one pedal stroke) farther into the unknown than you did yesterday.

This doesn’t mean dive in blindly and hurt yourself.  Just one step today, one small risk.  Another step and another small risk tomorrow.

If you have never done a headstand and want to nudge the boundaries of what is familiar and comfortable for you, I recommend talking to your yoga teacher and also doing some work/play with preparatory practices at home.

If you’re not sure where to start, below are some poses you can practice in order to build the strength and skills necessary for you to experience the magic moment of lift-off.

Before signing off, I want to tell you about my mom.  She inspired me to write this article.  She isn’t your stereotypical yogini doing headstands.  She isn’t young.  She has some injuries she has to take care of.  She is still fairly new to yoga, and she was slow to warm up to it.

But she did a headstand yesterday!  I can’t describe the feeling of watching it happen.  I can understand why a parent might choke up a bit when they witness their child ride a bike for the first time. Because it’s watching someone you love fly.

Here are some practices you can use to build up to headstand:

wall press

JSD wall press I

JSD wall press II










With hands on the wall, lean forward, bringing your weight into your arms.  As you bend your elbows, keep them IN, very close to the sides of the body.  Keeping the axis from your head to your feet, press away from the wall, and repeat several times.

Make sure your low back isn’t collapsing, which would cause your hips to come towards the wall faster than the rest of you.  Doing this correctly, you will feel some necessary engagement in the abdomen. Don’t try to make this happen, but notice that it naturally happens when the body maintains its axis.

forearm dog

JSD forearm dogWith elbows shoulder-width apart (not wider), interlace the fingers and press away from the floor.  The lower body engages all the same actions as in downward facing dog, and like downward facing dog, it’s fine to bend the knees.

Your head will NOT be on the floor.  In fact, you can work toward pressing more through the arms, and at the same time using the legs to pull you back, such that your head comes gradually farther from the floor.




wall forearm stand

JSD wall forearm stand I

JSD wall forearm stand II










Once the previous two practices feel reasonably comfortable, back up very close to a wall, and come into forearm dog.  From there, walk your feet up the wall.  At first, just go up and come right back down.  Do this a few times.  Then you can work toward spending more time in the pose. When you come out, don’t stand up too fast!

Make sure that your low-back doesn’t bow. As you get used to this, you can bring your base closer to the wall. Child’s pose is nice to do after this sequence.