Aligning the Mind in Headstand

The crown chakra (sahasrara) is infamously known to give us access to a higher state of consciousness or intelligence. Headstand (Sirsasana) is a unique pose in yoga, in that it is one of the few poses that directly stimulate the crown chakra, offering us access to a higher state of intelligence.


Yoga makes a clear distinction between the mind (manas) and intelligence (buddhi). Our mind, as metaphorically pointed out by B.K.S. Iyengar, is like a computer and information storer. The mind is clever, but cannot function without memory, and is equipped with a simple instinctual tool – “repeat pleasure and avoid pain”. Unpleasant experiences are stored in the memory as “avoid pain”, which is used by the mind to evaluate an experience and consequently action on. Through this simple binary tool, the mind is governed by mechanisms that resist change.


Intelligence (buddhi) in yoga, however, is the wisdom stored deep in our consciousness. It has the ability to stand independently outside the self and perceive objectively. As such, it differentiates truth (satya) from falsehood, and makes true wisdom possible. By stimulating the crown chakra in headstand, for a short moment through the practice of awareness, we are given the opportunity to glimpse into this wisdom.


The headstand alignment, as described by Iyengar in ‘Light on Yoga’, it that the “lumbar and pelvic region should not be pushed forward, while the trunk from the shoulders to the pelvis should be kept perpendicular”. If you put this to practice, you would soon realize that to get to the perfect alignment, it first feels like you are going to topple over backwards. Our mind, from memory formed by cumulated experiences, would generally tell us not to align the trunk and pelvis in one line; because if it feels like we will fall backwards, then we would most likely fall and the experience would be painful and embarrassing. So the mind would simply decide to “avoid pain” and signal the brain to back off.


A lot of times yogis, like myself, make the most common mistake in headstand, which is to bear the weight of the body in most secure part connected to the floor – our elbows through the strength of the biceps – because the mind through experience knows that the arm is more stable than the head, so the arm should bear the weight. When we do that, the trunk generally tilts forward, out of alignment with the shoulder and the pelvic, causing unnecessary pressure on the lower and middle back. Even though we would have been taught the right alignment, often time the mind takes control by disguising itself as wisdom in order to avoid what it assumes would be a painful experience.


Yoga is a journey through consistent practice. And one of the greatest gifts of the asana practice is the awareness it creates – first with the body, but progressively to our mind, self and intelligence. By cultivating awareness through consistent practice, I started seeing the character of the mind for what it is – simply a collection of past memories. It does not always serve me in the present. And it definitely does not serve me in my headstands.


My daily headstand practice encourages me to push past the decisions made by the mind, to accustom myself to the soft voice of intelligence in order to find the right balance. Beyond the physical asana, it has transformed itself into a deep internal practice of learning to tune in and trust the wisdom from within – to know and trust that I can transfer my weight further back towards the crown of my head.


The asana practice, over time, dives into layers beyond just the body. We all have deep intelligence within us. But sometimes the loud voice of the mind deafens the whispers of true wisdom. The asana practice is like a hearing aid that makes the voice of intelligence audible. To quote B.K.S. Iyengar “It is through the alignment of the body that I discovered the alignment of my mind, self, and intelligence”.


Sunitha Prasobhan (@miss_sunitha), 200hr Yoga TTC Sept 2017