The King of the Asanas – Headstand
Moving with our fear.
Headstand is an elegant inversion, insisting on patience, presence, and control to be done properly. For many of us, headstand is an opportunity to brush against our fear. Fear of the unknown, of falling, of not being in control. As such, the practice of headstand become an opportunity to practice intimacy with this fear. When we move slowly and with awareness, we can breathe through our fear reflex and assess where we really are. Rather than getting caught up in a fear narrative, we practice slowing down and observing our response. Whether we actually go upside down or not is actually irrelevant! More interesting is developing our capacity for self-observation and spaciousness.
Iyengar writes, “Regular and precise practice of Sirsasana develops the body, disciplines the mind and widens the horizons of the spirit. One becomes balanced and self-reliant in pain and pleasure, loss and gain, shame and fame, and defeat and victory.” -Light on Yoga
The neck. When we practice sirsasana, it is important that we work gradually to put weight on the head. When we are starting, place very little weight on the head and instead work to support the body through the work and stability of the shoulder girdle. This will prevent the delicate cervical spine from being overloaded.
The lower back: It is easy to “banana” in the lower back and crunch the lumbar spine. We must work to open the shoulders and engage to core to prevent collapse in the low back.
High/low blood pressure: Since we are increasing cranial pressure, it is prudent for students with blood pressure issues to proceed with caution or ask their doctor. Also, students with similar pressure issues such as glaucoma or hiatal hernia should seek advice from their physician before working on headstand.
The upper arm and lower arm are both in flexion. The upper arm will be working towards external rotation. Investigate poses such as Utthita Hastasana (arms raised in tadasana), Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Dog), Adho Mukha Vrksasana (Handstand), Vrksasana (Tree with arms raised), and Gomukhasana Arms (cow-faced pose, the top arm). Dolphin and Forearm Stand Prep are great preps.
Thoracic Spine. Even though we’re not backbending in sirsasana, the action of the upper back feels like backbending as we draw the shoulderblades deeper into the body. Backbends and twists are great way to access this action in the upper back.
Core. To support our body weight and keep the lower back long. Poses such as plank, forearm plank, Vasisthasana (side plank) are all great educators for the core.
Neutral legs. Find the connection of the adductors and the neutral position of the legs in lunges, Virabhadrasana I (Warrior I), Utkatasana (fierce/chair pose), and parsovttanasana (pyramid pose)
Warmed-up hamstrings. To get into headstand requires walking the legs in to the body, which is facilitated by long hamstrings. Warm up the hamstrings in uttanasana (forward fold), prasarita padottanasana (wide-legged forward fold), parsvottanasana (pyramid pose)
Do at wall or in corner. I highly recommend practicing this pose at the wall until confidence in one’s balance is developed.
Dolphin – prep only (head off floor, legs in Adho Mukha Svanasana). Raise one leg at a time
Prep (head on or off floor, but feet stay on floor), with block at wall, pressing into shoulderblades to encourage thoracic action (need a friend to help with this one!)
Virasana on a block (neutral legs)
Add utthita hastasana, fingers interlaced (flexion in upper arms) x 2, right and left interlace
Extended child’s pose (arms in flexion). Work action of thoracic spine
Plank, forearm plank variations (core)
Adho Mukha Svanasana (flexion, hamstrings, neutral)
Lunges (neutral legs)
Lunge with open twist (thoracic)
Surya A (hamstrings, neutral legs, arms in flexion, core) x 5
– last time add parivrtta parsvakonasana (thoracic)
Uttanasana – held (hamstrings)
Trikonasana (hamstrings, possible flexion arm variation)
Vrksasana (balance and arms in flexion)
Utkatasana, holding block (arms flexion)
Parvsottanasana (R/L), with straight back (hamstrings, work thoracic)
Parivrtta Trikonasana (thoracic, hamstrings)
Tadasana with Gomukhasana Arms
Virabhadrasana III with hands at wall (core, neutral legs, hamstrings)
Virabhadrasana III with back foot on wall (core, neutral legs, hamstrings)
Dolphin (Sirsasana prep)
Adho Mukha Svanasana (to release neck)
Variation of Salamba Sarvanghasana (shoulderstand) with block under pelvis and legs in air
Reclined Ankle to Knee