The Headstand, or Sirsasana (pronounced shir-SHA-sa-nuh) is promoted as one of the most beneficial of the yoga postures and yet it is also one of the most feared of the inversions. The idea of standing on just one’s head can cause quite a lot of anxiety.When we invert or go upside down in headstand we bring our heart and head below our hips and feet. This changes our perspective and brings about an energetic and emotional shift. Headstands practiced correctly are invigorating and nourish the immune and endocrine systems. Headstands can also lead to better posture and strengthening of the neck and shoulders. Done poorly, headstands can result in headaches and increasing neck tension. Please take note that if you have existing neck injuries, epilepsy, high blood pressure, heart conditions, or eye problems you should avoid headstands completely or practice under the supervision of a qualified yoga instructor.
Let’s look at some of the poses you can do to strengthen the shoulders before attempting a headstand – many of these can be done safely if you have a neck issue as there is no weight on the head. Please begin by warming yourself up with some cat/cow poses, plank and downward facing dog, adding a few rounds of sun salutations. If you have time, add some of the standing poses such as triangle, warrior II, tree pose and standing forward fold.
1. Forearm Plank
Place your elbows directly under your shoulders with forearms and hands flat onto the mat and step your feet back until your legs are straight, keep your body in one straight line by firming your thighs and your stomach and keep the back of your head gently lifting.
2. Dolphin Pose
Begin in forearm plank and press your forearms into your mat, lift your buttocks high and walk your toes closer to your elbows creating a ‘v’ shape with your body, your chest moves towards your feet, spread your shoulders wide and keep your neck long. Hold for up to 15 breaths and come to kneeling for a rest. When this pose starts to feel steady, move on to the next pose.
3. Headstand preparation at the wall
Begin on your hands and knees with your toes touching the wall, place your elbows on the floor under your shoulders and interlace your fingers. Keep your head off the floor, tuck your toes under and lift your knees and hips as in dolphin pose, stay here or walk your feet up the wall until your legs are parallel to the floor. Lift your shoulder blades moving them up and apart. Breathe steadily until you need to rest then step carefully down and come into child pose, kneeling with your buttocks on your heels and forehead on the floor. When this pose feels steady you are ready to move on to headstand at the wall.
4. Headstand to the Wall
Fold your yoga mat in half or place a blanket onto the floor and interlace your fingers and position them close to a wall, place the elbows directly under the shoulders and the top of your head onto the floor, the hands cradle around the back of the head. Walk the feet towards your face taking the hips up and towards the wall; keep the lift and spread of your shoulder blades. Stay here or lift the legs one at a time and bring your feet to the wall, keep your feet together and try to lengthen your legs upwards. To come out, exhale and bring your legs down to the floor one at a time, come into child pose and stay for as long as you held your headstand.
5. Child Pose
When you come up from child pose you should feel calm and steady. If you don’t you may have stayed in headstand for too long or maybe you need to check in with a yoga teacher to look at your technique.
To compliment the headstand finish your practice with some backbends, twists, a shoulderstand or viparita karani (legs up the wall) and finally relaxation.
By Katie Hamilton-King from Vanuatu Yoga Association. Check the website yogavanuatu.weebly.com for classes in Port Vila as led by the Vanuatu Yoga Association.