Not to start off on a big ol’ “warning” note but it’s necessary for this pose: while dealing with doing a headstand (salamba sirsasana) it’s imperative that you learn from an experienced, qualified yoga teacher that can analyze your alignment in person and give direct feedback. If you have a neck injury avoid this pose.
This mini outline is only designed to supplement your practice and education. I recommend that you grab a kale salad and sip some green tea while reading through these instructions before attempting the pose. See you on your mat!
HEADSTAND: don’t be intimidated. It’s known as the “king of asanas” because it has so many amazing benefits. This inversion can give you a boost in your energy, refresh your circulation, and turn that frown upside down. It works the full upper and mid-body strengthening your arms, shoulders, and core. Among many other benefits headstand is said to stimulate digestion, calm the brain, reduce stress and mild depression, and be therapeutic for infertility and insomnia.
When doing head stand, we want to make sure weight is evenly distributed through the foundation so let’s work through some building blocks and alignment. Please note: you can practice this pose against a wall.
Perspective shifts when inverted, so instead of going up-side-down right away we’ll practice it first in an upright position. Stand up in tadasana with your feet together. Reach your arms overhead and bend your elbows as you interlace your fingers at the crown of the head. Your forearms are parallel to the ground. Then bring the bottom ribs in, lift the lower belly in and up, engage the legs while pushing the thigh bones back, and finally lengthen the tailbone down towards the heels. The ear, shoulder, middle of the ribs, center of the hips, knees and ankles are all in the same line. This makes the “plum line” of your headstand.
Downward Facing Dog
Go into downward facing dog and press through the fingertips, draw the front of the rib cage into the body, spread the shoulder blades, hold for 5 breaths, and then shift back into child’s pose. This mini rest makes sure that this an “unrushed” pose. This is key.
Dolphin is amazing to help develop the arm and core strength, as well as open up the shoulders for headstand. Begin on hands and knees (table top position) then lower onto your forearms making sure they are shoulder-width apart (quick measurement: grab onto opposite elbows). Keep your elbows there, then interlock your fingers and not including your pinky fingers, tuck your toes under and lift your hips up towards the ceiling as you press your legs towards straight. Look towards your upper thighs so that your neck stays long and breathe here for at least 5 deep breaths.
LINE IT UP
From Dolphin pose, walk your feet a lot closer to your elbows and bring the hips to stack on top of the shoulders. Place the back of your head into the heels of your hands, so that the top of the head is gently resting on the mat. The pressure should mostly be in the forearms, and then a bit on the very top of the head. Not the hairline, or the back, but the very top. Keep your elbows shoulder width apart. It’s really important to press your forearms down into the mat so that you stay engaged rather than sunken into the shoulders. Keep that work and engage the core just like you did when practicing this standing up. When you’re in the right position, you’ll feel a sense of stacking from the forearms and top of the head, to the shoulders, the long spine, and then the hips.
From that sense of stacking, bend the knees into the chest and then reach the feet up to the ceiling as you straighten the legs. Still press the forearms into the ground and line up your body to find that vertical plum line. The majority of the weight is in your forearms. Reach the tailbone towards the ceiling. Keep the legs engaged. Flex the feet as if you were standing on them: push the inner edges of the heels up towards the ceiling. Check that your breath is still steady and stay awhile to enjoy this shift in perspective.
To reverse your way out: stay strong with your legs as you bend knees into the chest, land the feet then the knees onto the ground. Always take child’s pose after headstand for at least several breaths.
Enjoy going upside down!
By Angela Zawada – Metta Yoga Edmonton