Yoga Asana | Sirsasana (headstands) & Inversions

forearm standAccording to Master Paalu there are over 100 inversions and today in the September 2015 Weekday YTT we focused on headstands. Prior to joining a Yoga Teacher Training program I was able to do an ‘amateur’ headstand, meaning I could get up and hold a headstand but was not engaging the right muscles and I was not utilizing the proper technique.
Through training I have been able to improve my headstand, learn a few new variations as well as progress to learning Pincha Mayurasana (fore arm stand).Below I have shared a few common mistakes to watch out for as well as tips that helped me to improve my practice.
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Preparation for the pose:
1. Build up shoulder, arm and upper back strength and awareness.

a) Concentrate on stronger Chatarungas (don’t cheat yourself, use each Chatarunga as an opportunity to strengthen yourself, so you can get to the fun and challenging poses)

b)Hold Makara Adho Mukha Svanasana (forearm planks) for several minutes. Build up strength by starting with 30, 60, 90 second holds

c) Donkey kicks (as I would like to call them) should be done with three variations, both feet, left foot and right foot

Forward bend with arms engaged, planted on the ground and upper back rounded. Bring your feet closer to the body and kick up to (almost) handstand, land lightly and jump again do 30-50 times. Then alternate left and right with a scissor like action hopping left leg to handstand, coming down to the right leg, hopping lightly to handstand and continuing to switch legs do this exercise 30-50 times

d) Back Bending exercises and asanas (really understand how to engage and activate the upper back)

Back Bending Asanas include Setu Bandhasana (bridge formation pose), Urdhva Dhanurasana (upward bow pose), Ustrasana (camel pose)

When working on back bending focus on using the breath to first lift the chest and the lower/bend the upper thoracic spine (upper back)

e) Cat & cow poses (increases awareness of the upper back as you round into cat pose)

f) Makarasana (dolphin pose) is your best friend, do 50 times ‘dolphin push ups’ to build strength. When you are ready use dolphin pose to help get you into the inversion

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Trying the inversion*:
1. Use props to help you ‘feel’ the pose

a) Grab a strap and one block (if you’d like put a towel under your arms for more cushion). Utilize the strap to put around your biceps to keep your elbows, hip width apart during your headstand or forearm stand. The block is for those trying forearm stand, place the block between your hands (pictured above) and focus your gaze in front of your hands.

2. Utilize dolphin pose, walking your toes closer to your head, stacking your head, abdominal, and hips on top of each other

a) Then lift one leg, followed by the other

b) Remember to kick to the ceiling not the wall

3. Don’t use the wall as a ‘crutch’ (once you have build strength and practice yoga regularly)
4. Don’t arch your back and don’t rely on your lower back

a) Engage your upper back – rounding your shoulders (think cat back)

b) Depress you shoulders bring your shoulders away from the ears, putting weight into your arms, head and upper shoulders

5. Trust yourself, you’ve worked hard to build up strength all you need is the technique
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* If you are doing a headstand for the first time please have a trusted instructor near by and a wall can be used to provide support and comfort.
Restrictions: You should avoid this asana and inversions if you suffer from any of the following: cervical disc and eye issues, extreme neck and shoulder pain and possibly high or extremely low blood pressure and menstruating (as the prana could flow in the wrong direction).
 The world of headstands:
Today in class after two weeks of training we learned 5 different variations of headstands. I have described them as follows:
Salamba Sirsasana (supported headstand)
supported hs
backward palms hsSalamba Shirshasana 3 (backward palms headstand)
tripodSalamba Shirshasana 2 (tripod headstand)
bound hsBaddha Hasta Shirshasana (bound/double arm headstand)
free hand hs
Mukta Hasta Sirsana C
(iron cross headstand)
Note: I have just started working on my headstands so I am still working on my form but it is fun and challenging. Be sure to not do too many headstands and allow your mind to internalize the techniques you are working on. The tips above are what helped me with my practice and hope it is some food for thought.
Good luck!
Weekday Hatha/Ashtanga 200 Hour YTT September 2015

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