Embracing Salamba Sirsasana (Headstand)

I still remember the first time I tried a headstand. It was at a yoga class at the gym and nearing the end of the session, my yoga instructor demonstrated a headstand and without much fanfare asked that we give it a shot. I remember thinking he must have lost his mind. Either that or he is cracking a very bad joke. Turns out he wasn’t kidding around and before I knew it he was next to me helping me into my very first headstand. I went home feeling rather accomplished indeed. 🙂

Ever since that first time, it has been a tumultous journey embracing salamba sirsasana into my yoga practice. I swing from pure exhilaration when I manage to balance for like 5 seconds without the wall to sheer agony when I fall flat on my back when practicing in the middle of the room. I still can’t come off the wall for too long but I’ve since learned alot more about headstand to not be afraid going into the pose and to keep on practicing. Alot of people write about going into the full pose and sometimes neglecting the preparatory work that needs to come before that.

So as a rookie in headstand, I thought I would write about the anatomical focus in the preparatory work to salamba sirsasana instead of the full pose. Knowing that you have the preparatory work in the bag is crucial to making sure that we can do headstands free from injuries for many more years to come. I also like what Iyengar teacher John Schumacher said that the “preparatory work is an opportunity to bring true yoga into your practice. Standing on your head is not yoga. Kids do it all the time; so do circus performers”. Choosing to stay in preparation instead of being too quick to go into the full pose gives us an opportunity to exercise our mental discipline as well concentration. So here goes:-

Kneel on your yoga mat with your elbows shoulder-width apart. Arms are flexed and deltoids are actively engaged. Interlock your fingers in such a way that it’s neither too tight thus creating unnecessary tension or too loose thus losing the firm foundation. Place the crown of your head on the mat into the back of the hands and firmly plant forearms and wrists into the floor to prevent the cervical vertebrae from collapsing. Actively retract your scapula and engage your lower trapezius to lift your shoulders away from the head and free up space in your cervical area.

Lift your knees and walk your feet in until your torso is almost perpendicular to your mat, quadriceps and hamstrings engaged, all the time maintaining a lift in the shoulders. Consciously pull your mid-thoracic spine (space between your scapula) away from the wall towards the tailbone. Continue to firm your forearms and wrists on the mat.  When you can comfortably stay in this position for 1 minute maintaining the integrity of the alignment of your upperback and not collapsing into your neck then you’re ready to lift off. 🙂

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