So You Think You Can’t Do Headstand?

Trust me, you are not alone. Going upside down for the first time is scary, the fear is so real and we get cold feet. For some, it comes naturally and effortlessly. But for me, it didn’t. I have attended yoga classes in fitness centres in the last two years but I’ve never been exposed to Headstand (Sirsana) before. It is an inverted position where the head is on the ground and the feet are up. So, my very first attempt on headstand happened in my first lesson at Yoga Teacher Training. It was then I found out that Headstand is an advanced inversion that even beginners can practise safely in the presence of a professional yoga teacher. Take time to break down the pose and take baby steps, do not rush into the pose. There is honestly no shortcut in yoga. Being good at yoga will happen; it is a side effect of doing yoga, and doing yoga regularly. Being good at yoga is always secondary. Patience is virtue.

Beginners may become disoriented when they are upside down due to anxiety or changes in blood pressure in their body. They are unable to distinguish left from right and top from bottom. However, this disorientation subsides fairly quickly.

Headstand requires us to build strength and flexibility in our shoulders and core. That strength comes from working toward the pose, not just doing it. It is highly advisable to prepare our body and practise proper alignment to prevent injury.

Inversions are part of the closing postures, so all the asanas worked from the beginning would help to build strength and control for headstand. Mountain pose (Tadasana) is one of the best ways to prepare for headstand. The alignment of the body and the muscles that are active directly mirror the body in headstand. Stand with feet hip width apart, activate the legs and feel the knee caps lift, engage the core and neutralize pelvic tilt, retract and depress the shoulders, lengthen the back of the neck and slightly tuck the chin, then B-R-E-A-T-H-E. Remember this body alighment in upside down! Dolpin pose (Makarasana), a variation of downward facing dog, will take the practitioner deeper into the shoulders. It’s a sure fire way to work the shoulders and get them ready to support the body upside down.

Practice Headstand before Pranayama and meditative yoga pose. Below list out the step-by-step for a safe entry and exit of headstand:

  1. Sit on the knees and hold the elbows to measure the shoulder width distance. Next, bring the arms to the ground right under the shoulders.
  2. Keeping the elbows there, bring the hands closer and interlace the fingers so that your arms form a triangle. Do not let your elbows flare out.
  3. Place the head on the ground with the crown of the head in the cupped hands.
  4. Curl your toes; straighten your knees, hips to the sky into dolphin pose.
  5. Walk the feet towards your shoulder coming up onto the tippy toes and stacking hips over shoulders. This part can feel scary but the higher the hips, the easier it is to lift the legs.
  6. Bring right knee in your chest and followed by left knee towards the chest. This will make your spine straight.
  7. As you inhale straighten both legs to the sky and find yourself in mountain pose upside down. Continue squeezing the inner thighs together, keeping them very active! Engage the abdominal muscles (focus on mula bandha). Activate the toes by either flexing or pointing.
  8. Let the forearms and shoulders support the body and help maintain balance and strength.
  9. Actively ground the crown of your head onto the floor. Bring your focus on a steady point preferably at eye level. Use Ujjayi breathing and hold the posture as long as comfortable.
  10. How you come out of Sirsasana (or any pose, for that matter) is as important as how you go up. To come down, you essentially reverse the process of going up. As you exhale, bend the knees and lower them toward your chest, but keep lifting your shoulders and mid-thoracic spine. Lower both feet to the floor, maintaining the height of the hips and the length of the abdomen, so that you control your descent the whole way down. Always rest in Child’s pose (Balasana) for at least half a minute—or until your head feels clear—before you sit up.

Contraindications and Cautions

  • Back injury
  • Headache
  • Heart condition
  • High blood pressure
  • Menstruation
  • Neck injury
  • Pregnancy

 ** If you get frustrated, STOP. Try again tomorrowJ **

 – LYCHANG (200YTT, Apr-Jun17)