In the link above, I talk about how to easily and safely come into headstand, but let’s be clear; for a handstand to transform from an acrobatic feat to an asana, we have to understand:
– Why we do Salamba Sirsasana (headstand)
– What muscular engagement is required
– What preparation is involved
– What counter-posing is involved
By having this knowledge, you take the effort out of this asana. Only then is it possible to be weightless and still, and experience Salamba Sirsasana beyond its obstacles.
Reasons for Doing Headstand:
Headstand is a posture that will bring blood to the head and torso. The asana also provides a pleasant release for all sections of the spine, a strengthening of the upper body and shoulders, a sense of feeling grounded, and an improvement in posture and breath capability. This is because your torso is challenged to be erect while experiencing the force of gravity in the opposing direction.
It is important to note that executing Salamba Sirsasana only has these positive effects when properly prepped for and counter posed. Always take your time and be mindful with any unorthodox positions like headstand.
Muscular Engagement Involved:
I’ve personally seen a huge improvement in my posture and experienced greater comfort in my own body by practicing headstand. It gave me the chance to learn how to learn again; to learn how to stand again. What caught my eye was the incredible similarities between standing on your knees and being in headstand.
When you stand on your knees you are ideally pressing down from your hips, and tucking your tailbone towards your body, while your shins give you the stability to stand still. Headstand is similar except that the chin is slightly tucked in and the you are using your shoulders and upper body to firmly press your forearms and elbows into the ground.
To experience the mechanics of headstand, I encourage you to stand on your knees and pay close attention to the weigh distribution involved to help you stand firmly in this pose; then, see if you can apply the same mechanics and weight distribution in headstand or modified headstand.
Over time you will develop a deeper understanding of what it feels like to remain aware and still, both on your knees (Vajrasana), and in headstand (Salamba Sirsasana).
Treat these two postures as sister postures and you will expand your understanding of mula bandha (tucking of your tailbone) and jalandhara bandha (tucking of your chin), and how their engagement can bring your spine into weightlessness in any position where the spine is erect.
Preparation for Headstand:
Salamba Sirsasana is an axial extension and inversion. This is a fancy way of saying that headstand is a posture where your spine is elongated and your chest is above your head. In order to prepare for headstand, you must do preparatory asanas that involve back and core engagement. Additionally, some shoulder and arm mobility work is required to achieve ease in the posture.
My essential recommendations for effective headstand prep include:
• Balasana (child’s pose) where the arms are extended forward and emphasis is on inhale retention or elongation. This is a very simple asana and breathing technique that goes a long way. In this adaptation, it is very easy to expand the sides of the rib cage and bring ease to the neck and shoulders. This opening and expansion of your torso helps create a firm and engaged stance in headstand.
• Urdhva Hastasana (mountain pose with your arms up) where the fingers are clasped together and palms are facing up. The asana is made dynamic by:
o Inhaling, straightening the elbows, moving your palms to the ceiling, expanding the chest, expanding all sides of your ribcage
o Exhaling, bending the elbows, having the tops of your fingers touching the top of your head, and bringing the naval towards your spine
• Uttanasna (forward fold) to Ardha Uttanasana (half-lift). In this adaptation, be very mindful that the chin remains tucked in towards the chest and, that the shoulder blades remain relaxed the whole way through. This will ensure an effortless elongation of the spine and an ease in inhalation.
• Virabhadrasana I (Warrior I) dynamically. In the dynamic movement, inhale and come into the pose. On the exhale, straighten your leg to come out. Even when your legs are straight, make sure to engaged with your legs (specifically the thighs) by placing a slight bend in your front knee. Make sure the back knee is bent so slightly that it is felt but not seen.
• Virabhadrasana I (Warrior I) at a 45 degree angle. This is a static adaptation where you are creating one long line from your fingers to your heels. It is important to keep the chin tucked to the chest in this asana.
Counter-Posing for Headstand:
After completing headstand, it is important to counter the strain the neck, shoulders, and abdomen may have gone through. Additionally, it is likely that a practitioner’s blood pressure has gone up, and it is important to neutralize the blood pressure. I recommend the following asanas:
• Right upon completing your headstand, rest in Balasana (child’s pose) with the arms extended forward. You may have noticed the same recommendation in the headstand prep section. The only difference is that in this adaptation, the emphasis is on elongating exhales. I recommend completing 5 breath cycles:
o Inhales: 4,4,4,4,4
o Exhales: 4,5,6,7,8
• A great asana that will help release the pressure in the cervical spine is Dvipada Pidam dynamically. In this adaptation, alternate your arms and rotate your head in the opposing direction. This dynamic motion offers significant support for the hips and spine, which makes the release in the neck and shoulders much deeper.
• Last, but not least, restore the neutrality of whole spine with Dynamic Ardha Salabhasana (Superman), alternating the arms on the inhale and bringing the hands to the lower back on the exhale. Additionally, make sure to rest your head to one side and alternate sides each time. This dynamic motion loosens the neck, shoulders, and lower back to release strain and tension in these regions of the body. To minimize the effort needed in this posture, make sure you are expanding the belly deeply on your inhales and allowing the air to the rise in to the collarbones.
We welcome your comments and/or questions either posting here or next time I see you in class.