Inversions – Headstand
Headstand Pose or (Salamba Sirsasana) is commonly seen at the end of a Yoga poses practice when the arms, shoulders & core has been warmed up, the neck is stretched and self awareness is heightened. It is purposely arranged to make Headstand easier. The benefits of Headstand are so numerous that some Yogis practice only this pose. Headstand is a strong stable pose, requiring strong shoulders, core strength and balance. Headstand offers immediately relief from depression and lifts the spirits.
How to practice Headstand Double the mat if the crown of your head needs extra cushion underneath. In time this cushioning will not be necessary. Begin in Thunderbolt Pose (sitting on heels), if using a wall place the hands about 4” from the base of the wall. Interlace the fingers thumbs upward, and bring the elbows shoulder width apart. The forearms, head, shoulders, hips, knees and ankles will be stacked when fully in the Headstand pose. Once the fingers are interlaced strongly, make a space for the head by opening the palms and place the crown of the head on the floor in that space. The forearms should be plant shoulder width apart but are active, opposing any outward splaying and remaining contracted and energetically pulling toward each other. The shoulders are pulled away from the ears so that the neck is given full length and compression is minimal and a sore neck is avoided. If the shoulders need time to gain strength practice the pose only half way until the next action is effortless. Once the base is established with the crown directly downward curl the toes under the feet and left the hips, begin walking the feet slowly toward the head while scanning the torso for a 90 degree vertical feel of the hips and torso coming to a stacked position over the shoulders. There will come a point where balance is required to shift from prominent lower body weight bearing to upper body weight bearing. If Headstand pose is relatively new or new, practice coming up to that point of balance and then walking the feet back and sitting up out of the pose onto the heels again. This helps reduce fear, give the mind a map of how to return to lower body weight bearing which it is used to. This is a good way to establish strength in the shoulders and arms, train you to use the shoulders and arms in order to reduce pressure on the neck; as well it will build curiosity for the feel of transferred weight onto the shoulders and arms. When the body is ready to lift the body up lift one foot off the mat and find the core power to balance. When balance is found the other leg will lift easily. Kicking up into Headstand unnecessarily stresses shoulder joints and bypasses gains made in fine awareness and strengthening of the core muscles while going into Headstand with control. Once the feet are off the floor, the knees will be bent with feet tucked in to the buttocks. With the knees bent extend the thigh straight up to the sky. Do this slowly. Once stability the lower legs and feet can extend upward to the sky. It is normal to sway slightly in the torso until balance of energy is established. In the beginning, it is common to contract at the flexors of the hips so that the lower body loses connection with its straight upward alignment; the result is the feet fall to the mat. Sit up in Thunderbolt Pose (sitting the heels) then set the base for Headstand and try again. With practice the pose becomes more connected, stronger and mastery to come down with slow precision in the same manner you go up can be developed. Also with consistent practice variations in Headstand may be explored. Rest in Corpse Pose after Headstand. Completely relax; feel the benefits of your pose. There should be no soreness to the top of the head nor pain in the neck. See Precautions & Tips for more guidelines.
Benefits of Headstand Headstand provides a rest for the heart by supporting venous return to it by way of reverse gravity. The inverted state of Headstand Pose flushes blood to the head, improving circulation of blood to the scalp and face. The skin of the face is flushed with fresh blood without vigorous exercise helping to give it a youthful glow. Headstand Pose increases blood flow to the pituitary gland and pineal gland in the brain. The pituitary secretes growth hormone, thyroid-stimulating hormone, and 7 other hormones for body homeostasis. The Pineal gland releases a hormone called melatonin that regulates sleep and wakefulness. While in Headstand Pose blood flushes through the thymus gland of the upper chest and thyroid & parathyroid glands of the neck, stimulating immunity function and metabolic functions. Muscles of the shoulders and arms are strengthened in a balanced manner, unlike many sports activities. Sensitivity to position of the hips in Headstand equate with better hip posturing while standing and sitting afterwards. The muscles of the buttocks are toned while in Headstand and the rotator muscles deep in the hips are toned while moving and sustaining the pose. The abdominal muscles are strengthened including the oblique muscles on the side of the torso. Spinal alignment in encouraged while in Headstand Pose from the first cervical vertebra at the base of the skull to the tailbone at the bottom of the hips. The muscles of the legs are engaged while in Headstand tone numerous muscles. While inverted in Headstand Pose the Lungs are cleansed with fresh blood and deep breaths in and out the nostrils are felt as spacious and calming. The organs of the gut and chest are massaged; the liver being a heavy blood saturated organ greatly benefits from the change in pressure and orientation. Deep breathing is encouraged while in Headstand pose, diaphragmatic breathing become almost effortless. Focusing the eyes on one spot while holding the pose helps to still the mind and calm the nervous system. Headstand is followed by a wonderful feeling of weight being lifted off the chest, a sense of freedom and lightness of spirit.
Precautions and Tips for Headstand Pose Those with high blood pressure, recent neck injury, cervical spine issues, or women menstruating should not practice Headstand. Also those with excessive weight especially in the lower body raises a red flag to practicing Headstand, this includes for women, the temporary time of period of the 3rd trimester of pregnancy. If there is fear in the mind when practicing Headstand use the wall to catch your back rather than having someone catch your legs on the way up. By using the wall you can focus on your own body, where you are in space and build strength at your own pace. Go up and come down as often as you want. Rest in Corpse Pose when tired. Dolphin Pose is useful for helping to prepare the upper body to bear weight in Headstand and other inversion poses. Most importantly follow the breath, if the breath is jagged and hurried back off, the breath should continue as a slow steady rhythm. Headstand Pose has been ‘crowned’ the King of the Poses by many Yogis, as much as it has been called a simple pose for its appearance of simply standing, albeit just upside down. Enjoy the view! May all beings everywhere be happy and free, namaste.