Headstand: It’s Just a Matter of Perspective

Headstand. Sirsasana. The King of Asana.

This magnificent pose has a rightful place as king and its benefits are innumerable: it calms the nervous system, nourishes the brain cells, stimulates the heart and circulation, balances hormones, improves digestion, and strengthens the spirit.

Headstand against a wall

Headstand against a wall

For many years I considered this pose too advanced for me. I never even attempted it. Even as my practice grew, I always considered it something that would happen in the future.

Then I enrolled in yoga teacher training. I got a list of the asana we were going to cover and there it was: Sirsasana. Gulp.

I picked out a few poses that I knew were going to be a challenge for me and spent the year prior to training working them in to my daily practice. For headstand, that meant months of building up strength and flexibility in my shoulders. I spent a lot of time in plank with dolphin arms. When that became more comfortable, then I began to walk my toes in so I was in more of a downward dog shape, still on dolphin arms. I got to where I could walk my toes in pretty far.

But that’s where I plateaued. I still could not imagine where I would find the strength to hoist my legs up over my head. It didn’t help that I was going through a divorce and having menopausal night sweats that left me feeling depleted. I didn’t exactly feel like I had an inner reservoir of strength. I tried to simply accept where I was with the pose, and that maybe I’d be hanging out there for a few more years.

Then I enrolled in an inversions workshop, scheduled to take place the day before our Headstand class. I thought, “Why not? Maybe I’ll learn some tips to help me get to the next level.” I let go of the need to be able to do the full Headstand.

The time came. I knealt down in front of the wall and interlaced my fingers, put my head on the floor, pulled my shoulderblades together, and started walking my feet in, just like always. And then–it happened. I saw my own feet lift off the floor and disappear from view. It was like an unseen hand lifted me up and there I was–in the full pose (with the wall as a prop). I felt euphoric, awestruck by own abilities.

Something clicked that day. I was able to make some progress by getting out of my own way, by learning to accept where I was. When I found real contentment in a modification of the pose, then I was able to surrender the ego long enough to move forward.

For the next few months I was addicted to Headstand. I felt like I had to do it every day just to keep proving to myself that I could. My ego had not totally surrendered! The posture became a restorative staple, busting one out against a tree after a long walk, during massage breaks, or instead of a nap.

I’ve been actively practicing this posture for about two years. I’m still practicing this pose against a wall for support. Now I’m working on taking my feet away for longer and longer stretches. Rather than doing a few Headstands in a row, now I’m working on staying in for longer periods of time. Headstand has become one of my daily practice “essentials”.

You can do this pose, too. Here’s how:

Warm up with some sun salutations or downward dog first.

1. Fold a yoga blanket or mat and lay it against a wall. Kneel in front of the blanket and place your forearms on it, sphinx-style. The elbows should be  no wider than the shoulders. Form a triangle with your arms by interlacing your fingers. The fingers should be about 4 inches from the wall.

2. Start pressing down through the elbows and bring the hips in closer to the shoulders. Press the wrists down.

3. Place the crown of the head between the wrists, with the back of the head cradled by the hands. The very top of the head is in contact with the floor and the neck is aligned.

4. Tuck the toes under and straighten the knees so you’re in an inverted V shape. Walk your feet toward your head, bringing the weight on to the top of the head.

5. When the feet can’t walk in any further, lift them off the floor and bring the heels toward the buttocks. ground down through the elbows and wrists.

6. Begin to straighten the legs and lift up through the shoulders. Tuck the shoulderblades on the back. There should be lots of space between the shoulders and ears. Lengthen the waist, drawing the belly in.

7. Stay for 5 breaths in the beginning, building up over many  months to 10 minutes of more. Come down by reversing the steps, and rest in Child’s Pose for a few breaths afterward.

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