In 2015 I’ll be highlighting a new posture each week. Find sequences, benefits, and archives here.
Sirsasana, or Headstand, is also known as the king of all asanas. That’s a pretty big claim for one pose, and Headstand lives up to its name toting incredible claims for benefits (see below). Certainly one of those poses that most people think of when they think of yoga, this is also one of the goals that many new practitioners set for themselves. Finding headstand without the support of the wall is a huge moment for an asana enthusiast and requires a LOT of practice, patience, and a helping of bravery to top it off!
Headstand is an ancient yoga posture, seen in some of the earliest descriptions and instructions for asana. Headstand requires strength as well as poise. When performed properly, this inversion is sending Kundalini energy from the base chakra directly to the crown. This balances the energy body and opens the 7th chakra, allowing entrance into samadhi (the bliss state or enlightenment).
In addition, BKS Iyengar writes in Light on Yoga:
Regular practice of Sirsasana makes healthy pure blood flow through the brain cells. This rejuvenates them so that thinking power increases and thoughts become clearer. The asana is a tonic for people whose brains tire quickly. It ensures a proper blood supply to the pituitary and pineal glands in the brain. Our growth, health and vitality depend on the proper functioning of these two glands.
People suffering from loss of sleep, memory and vitality have recovered by the regular and correct practice of this asana and have become fountains of energy. The lungs gain the power to resist any climate and stand up to any work, which relieves one from colds, coughs, tonsilitis, halitosis and palpitations. It keeps the body warm. Coupled with Sarvangasana (shoulder stand) movements it is a boon to people suffering with constipation. Regular practice of Sirsasana will show marked improvement in the hemoglobin content of the blood.
It is not advisable to start with Sirsasana or Sarvangasana when one suffers from high OR low blood pressure.
Regular and precise practice of Sirsasana develops the body, disciplines the mind and widens the horizons of the spirit. One becomes balanced and self-reliant in pain and pleasure, loss and gain, shame and fame and defeat and victory.
Clearly, there are lots of reasons to practice headstand, AND big poses usually carry bigger risks. This means that practicing good alignment, building slowly and asking a teacher for help are crucial to learning this pose and receiving its benefits.
Some important alignment points for practicing Headstand:
- Your weight is directly on the crown of your head, where a baby’s soft spot is. This should ensure all 4 sides of your neck are evenly elongated.
- Keep your shoulders drawing away from your ears (towards your heels), if your shoulders are tight, you may not be able to come upside down completely without risking your neck. Be patient and wait for your shoulders to open.
- Your tailbone reaches towards your heels and your legs extend straight up to the ceiling. Try to remove any excess arch from your lower back and any hinge from the front of your hips.
- Headstand has 4 traditional variations: bound, tripod (shown above), open hand and no hands. They are traditionally taught in this order (and numbered I – IV), as each progressive variation places more weight into the head itself.
- Do not kick up into headstand. Draw one knee at a time into your chest (as shown above) and then extend your legs straight up. Eventually, you can lift both legs together and even keep them straight as you reach them up.
- If you are not ready to do headstand, practice Dolphin. Place your elbows on the floor (shoulder distance apart), lace your fingers together, lift your knees up like Down Dog and walk your feet closer and closer to your elbows. In Dolphin pose, your head is off of the floor and stays off of the floor. This pose will build shoulder and hamstring flexibility as well as strength in your torso to eventually practice Headstand.
Finally, when we talk about Headstand I think it is very important to remember that everyone will meet this pose in their own time. Some people take to it very easily, even within weeks of their first yoga class (or before!), while others, like myself, will take years. Use the wall for support when you first learn the pose, be willing to do your prep work. And, most importantly, do not compare yourself to others or race to accomplish any pose. Allow your strengths to be your strengths and continually work to balance your own weaknesses. Practicing Sirsasana without proper form will injure you. Give yourself the gift of patience and know that with practice it will come.
How do you feel about headstand? Love it or hate it? Let me know!