Upside down or downside up?
Downside up probably does not make much sense. In fact, no one really uses such a term. But my headstand experience seems to suggest that perhaps there is a difference between upside down and downside up and differentiating the two could help you address your issues better.
Technically, we are all familiar with the drill.
1. In a kneeling position, interlace your fingers and place your elbows down on the mat, shoulder width apart to form a triangle.
2. Place the crown of your head down on the mat and cup the back of your head with your fingers.
3. Lift your knees and walk your legs closer to your head, shifting the weight onto your shoulders.
4. Once your legs become weightless and your back is fairly straight, raise your legs either to a tucked position or up to form a straight vertical line.
Sounds okay right? Unfortunately, not for me.
Going Upside down
Let’s start from the beginning shall we? My first experience with headstand started earlier this year and wow, I did not realise I was this terrified of being upside down. The pressure on the head, the lack of balance and seeing the world in a topsy-turvy view is not fun at all. And that immense fear of falling is really unsettling.
Fortunately, YTT has taught me that headstand is actually not as daunting as it looks with a better foundation, core, flexibility and adequate preparation. Even my ridiculously tight shoulders and chest which were preventing me from grounding my elbows have become more flexible with regular practice of shoulder and chest opening asanas like downward dog, puppy pose and simply more stretching. The usage of blocks has also helped me to understand where my back should be as I walk my legs towards my head. Eventually, it wasn’t that difficult to lift and tuck my legs to go into a half headstand. The fear of having my head on the mat in an inverted pose was also largely reduced. Hence going upside down did not seem that tormenting anymore!
Going downside up
However that was only 50% of the job done. Straightening the legs to go into a proper vertical headstand turned out to be a real struggle! I realised after addressing my fear of being upside down, I have yet to tackle being downside up! Having my legs in the air was far more scarier than I thought and I was constantly afraid of toppling over. In fact, I still am!
This vulnerable state of mind often tenses me up unnecessarily and as you’d have guessed, it made going into a straight line far more difficult than it should be. Thankfully, I’ve found some ways to help me relax before and as I go into the pose.
1. Breathe. Do a long exhalation as you walk your feet towards your head. Inhale as you go into the headstand and make sure the breath is kept stable.
2. Relax and that includes your facial muscles. This reduces the stiffness in the body as you go into the pose.
3. Drishti. Seems like many people overlooked that the focal point of headstand is at the nose. And looking at it or somewhere near it would help you to stay focused and thus balanced. Personally, this also helps to declutter my mind.
4. Go slow. And I mean slooooow. There is no need to rush into a headstand. Be comfortable and stable before you make your next adjustment regardless of how tiny that adjustment might be.
5. Learn how to fall properly. Alright, confession time. I have yet to have a proper fall from headstand. I’ve had awkward falls and falls that could have injured myself but not the safe ones that everyone should be practising. If you, like me, are struggling to learn to fall, I’m really sorry but I do not have the key to the answer. I’m still looking for it and I hope you find yours soon!
To conclude, going upside down is when your head is on the mat and downside up is when you legs are in the air. Understanding the differences has helped me to better identify what needs to be done and I hope it’d help you too. Most importantly, always remember that there is no need to rush into a perfect headstand. If you are still finding your way up, enjoy the process of exploration and some day the headstand will come.
Ryan Ong (200hr Weekend YTT/Jul 2015)