Sirsasana, or Headstand is typically performed near the end of a practice session when the entire body has warmed up and helps refocusing, clears congestion, improves circulation and resets the nervous system.

I felt very intimidated when i saw the demonstration of Headstand in the first week of class. I never tried doing any inversions before joining YTT and honestly thought this was not available to me. The three main components of Headstand are strength, balance, elimination of fear. I am lucky that my body is naturally strong. I managed to work on the other two, balance and elimination of fear, by slowly introducing more and more preparatory poses to my daily routine, going into the final pose step by step.

Try the following routine to increase strength in the arms and shoulders, train muscle memory and improve the body’s ability to being inverted. If you are regular with your practice, after just a few days or weeks, miracles will happen.

1. Strengthen your arms/core:
– Practice Downward Facing Dog, High Plank, Low Plank (Chaturanga Dandasana), Dolphin pose, Dolphin Plank. Hold: 30 sec to a minute in each pose.
– Practice transitions: Downward Facing Dog –> High Plank (10 times), High plank –> Low plank (10 times), High plank –> Forearm plank (10 times), Forearm Plank –> Dolphin (10 times). Focusing on core, hip, and leg stability, engage your abdomen and hip flexors to fold, arms do not move.

2. Stretch your glutes, hamstrings, psoas muscles, this will help stabilize the Headstand later.
– Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend), fold at the hips so that your torso comes to rest on your thighs. Work on firming your quads and engaging your hip flexors and abdomen to lengthen your hamstrings.
– Prasarita Padottanasana (wide-legged forward bend), hold for a while, and twist.
– Turning upside down : 3 legged downward dog,
– Activate your psoas muscles, leg up to 90° angle, 50 times.

3. Open your shoulders:
– Tadasana Gomukhasana (Standing Cow Face Pose):  extend and externaly rotate the upper arm and engage your legs.
– Garudasana arms: prepare your shoulder blades for the protraction that is required in Headstand.
– Vakrasana (Twisted Pose): helps opening the upper body to support you in Sirsasana

4. Headstand Preparation:
– L-shape handstand feet against the wall: all 3 benefits above, strengthens the arms, the core and opens the shoulders.
– Sit with the legs crossed, place the palms of the hands on top of the head. Gently press onto the region of the fontanel, directly in the center of the skull. At the same time, press upward into the hands with the head. Initiate this effort from the pelvis and up through the aligned column.
– From a kneeling position, interlace the fingers and place elbows down shoulder width apart. Place the crown of the head down on the floor, between the interlocked hands, with no pressure on the crown itself. Keeping length and strength in the neck, engage the forearms and shoulders and walk your feet as close as possible to your elbows. At this point, most of your body weight is centered over your shoulders.

5. One-legged headstand:
– From the previous pose, lift one foot off the mat without shifting too much more weight into the shoulders. Lift one foot up as far as you can, testing out what kind of core strength will be required to lift both feet up off the ground. Switch legs back and forth until you are comfortable lifting one leg off the mat while not compromising your head and neck safety.

6. Sirsasana*:
– From a kneeling position interlace the fingers and place elbows down shoulder width apart.
– Place the crown of the head down on the floor, lift the knees and walk the legs closer, shift the weight onto the shoulders. Do not crush the neck, depress the shoulder blades to keep them stable.
– Once you feel the legs become weightless, raise the legs up to form a straight vertical line, stay for a few breaths.
– Still in Sirsasana, fold at the hips, bring both legs parallel to the floor, stay for a few breaths.
– Come down to Balasana (Child’s pose) to rest. It’s important to follow Headstand with Child’s Pose in order to help decompress the neck, relieve muscular tension and re-acclimate the cardiovascular system, and provide you with a few moments of stillness to savor the effects of the inversion.

Inversions are challenging and take time, so allow the body time to build the strength and eliminate fear by adding the poses above into your regular practice with increasing frequency and duration. After a few weeks, your shoulders and core will be ready, with the strength and movement necessary for headstand. Eventually, you’ll feel secure and confident and not need the wall. Be grateful of where you are each day, don’t rush the process and remember, it is the journey that matters not the destination.

Marie, YTT200 (Sep’17-Weekend)

*Note: this pose may be hazardous, especially if you have any pathology in the cervical spine region.There are other effective alternatives that allow you to obtain many of the benefits of inversions while avoiding the dangers, example supported Setu Bandha.

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