The king of asanas

The Headstand often called the ‘king of asanas’. What has earned it that title is because to master it requires focus to your balance and alignment that heightens your sensitivity and stability and the strength and the willingness to literally turn yourself upside down. It’s a pose that requires courage and it’s only once you muster that courage, can you reap in the numerous benefits.

Here are some of them:

It’s the elixir of youth
Going Into a headstand and letting your skin hang in the opposite direction can provide an instant ‘facelift’. The inversion also flushes fresh nutrients and oxygen to the face, creating a glowing effect on the skin.

It resets and improve blood flow
When you’re doing an inversion, oxygenated blood flows the other way. It can flow straight to the brain improving focus and mental clarity or to the eyes, improving eyesight. It also increases blood flow to the scalp, which in turn improves nutrient delivery to your hair.

It relieves stress
Combined with slow, long breaths, it’s great for when you’re having anxiety, stress or fear. It also works on your adrenal glands which are responsible for the release cortisol or adrenaline- stress hormones.

It’s great for hormone balance
Aside from relieving stress, the headstand stimulates and provides oxygenated blood to the pituitary and hypothalamus glands which are considered the master glands that regulate all other glands in the body (thyroid, pineal, and adrenals).

It’s great for strengthening shoulders, arms and abs
The headstand uses a lot of muscles to firstly get you up then keep you up. Strengthening these muscles are also great for improving upper body strength and muscular endurance.

It improves digestion
When the effects of gravity are reversed, it helps relieve trapped gases, improve bloodflow and remove waste from the digestive system.

 

“The best way to overcome fear is to face with equanimity the situation of which one is afraid,”

B.K.S. Iyengar says in his section on Sirsasana in Light on Yoga

Yoga for your insides

Yoga has many benefits. Most people know the wealth of physical benefits- improves flexibility, improves strength and stamina – but what about what it does to your insides?

There’s a whole new area to explore when looking at the effect of yoga on your hormones.

Each of the glands in the endocrine system has specific functions, and can cause specific symptoms if out of balance. As it’s a system, if one gland is out of balance, then it is likely to affect other glands in the system so it’s important to do a yoga practice that helps to keep the entire system balanced.

For those who believe in the energy of the chakras, the endocrine system is also very closely aligned with the chakra system with the positioning of each chakra containing one or two glands.

A regular practice has been shown to decrease cortisol and adrenaline hormone levels- the hormones that rise during periods of stress and can possibly cause tumours if the levels remain high for a long period of time. While they’re our in-built fight or flight mechanism, they’re also the hormones that can make you cranky and generally not happy.

For women during their menstruation or menopause, hormones can wreck havoc on happiness and outlook on life. Yoga can contribute a balancing effect.

Yoga can also help you sleep more soundly and peacefully as certain positions can raise levels of melatonin.

Yoga can also increase thyroid hormone which increases your metabolism rate and helps you lose weight and feel more alive.

While it’s not an exact science, many studies state that it takes around 3 to 6 months of regular practice for yoga to have these effects on your hormones.

I’ve been doing yoga one and off for a few years now and I personally have definitely noticed its effect on my mood during the periods when I’ve committed to regular practice.

Here are some good yoga poses to try to stimulate certain glands:

Pireal gland– halasana, matsyasana

Pituatory– siriana

Thyroid– halasana, viparita karani

Pancreas– any twisted pose like parvitta trikonasana or pincha mayurasana

Adrenal – any backbends such as chakrasana, ustrasana

Reproductive glands – sirsasana

Here are some power poses when it comes to stimulating the glands:

Sasangasana
This pose stimulates the thyroid and the parathyroid glands. The thyroid gland is located in the neck and secretes hormones that regulate growth and metabolic function. The parathyroid glands are also found in the neck and control how much calcium is released into the body.

Bhujangasana
Cobra Pose massages the adrenal gland which allows your body to better combat stress and release tension.

Ustrasana
This pose stimulates your internal organs, especially in the neck region where the thyroid and parathyroid glands are located.

Everyone can learn something from the sutras of Pantanjali

If you really want to get a sense of how old Yoga is look at the sutras of Pantanjali.

The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali which are the foundational text of classical yoga philosophy are around 2000 years old.

They fell into relative obscurity for nearly 700 years from the 12th to 19th century and then made a comeback in late 19th century.

During the 20th century, modern practitioners of yoga elevated the sutras to common use translating it into various languages so it could be understood around the world.

Sutra in sanskrit means a rope or thread that holds things together.

The themes of the sutras are universal to the human consciousness and a way of mindful living and are still very relevant today, despite their age. As Patanjali writes, all that matters is that we begin here and now and commit to living and practicing with greater self-awareness and presence.

The sutras show you the lineage of yoga to help you get a better understanding of the history behind certain poses and sequences. From that you earn a certain respect and understanding of the asanas. They remind you of the true purpose of your practice and the sutras talk about the philosophy and helps you to understand the barriers to living a happy and fulfilled life and essentially on how to begin to live your yoga.

I want to end with a verse I found translated. I think it’s amazing how philosophy like this can withstand the test of time and still be as relevant today as it was around 2000 years ago.

“We are not going to change the whole world, but we can change ourselves and feel free as birds. We can be serene even in the midst of calamities and, by our serenity, make others more tranquil. Serenity is contagious. If we smile at someone, he or she will smile back. And a smile costs nothing. We should plague everyone with joy. If we are to die in a minute, why not die happily, laughing? (136-137)”
– Sri S. Satchidananda, The Yoga Sutras

Teacher training course- only the beginning

I have been practicing yoga on and off for many years. I move around a lot so whenever I move to a new country or city, it takes a while before I’m able to find a yoga studio I like and a teacher I want to follow.

In my dabbling of yoga, I’ve slowly progressed through the asanas (my inflexibility, slowly and painfully improving) but I always knew yoga was much more than its asanas which is why I enrolled for the teacher training course.

During one fo the theory classes we learned about the 8 limbs of yoga- which refer to a way of life that is very much in line with the ideal kind of life I would like to lead.

These 8 limbs are the Yama (attitudes toward our environment), Niyama (attitudes toward ourselves), Asana (physical postures), Pranayama (restraint or expansion of the breath), Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses), Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation) and Samadhi (complete integration).

It stuns me to think that all this time I’ve been doing yoga, I’ve only scratched the surface. I was only exploring the Asana. Through the course I’ve explored Pranayama and Dhyana, both of which I think will be great building blocks as I progress in life.

It’s also made me realise how much I’ve got to learn. We’re always told that 200 hours was not enough and I completely agree. More than a teacher training course, it’s only the beginning of what will be a life long journey of learning and I’m looking forward to further improving myself in the asanas and learning much more about the 8 other limbs of yoga.