Pose Progression: Sirsasana (Headstand)
I love being upside down.
Like a chicken with a bag on it’s head, I go still, quiet, and calm at the mere hint of an inversion. Maybe it’s the weight release on the hips, knees, feet and neck; maybe it’s the increased blood flow to the upper half of the body… or maybe I’m more poultry than person when it comes to this pose. Headstand is the ultimate opposite to our normal state of existence. Our feet work hard all day, our hips carry our big ol’ legs, and our entire body hangs off those hard working shoulders. I’m a firm believer that we should be upside down at least once every day.
Name: Sirsasana / Headstand
Good For: Reducing stress, inducing calm. Boosts hair growth, clears complexion, improves sleep quality. Supports general release of tension throughout the body, and increased blood flow to the brain.
Muscle Groups: Abdominals, Spinal Muscles, Triceps, Deltoids, Trapezius.
Don’t Do If: Pregnant ladies should not attempt this unless they had a strong practice of inversions prior to pregnancy. Any history of abdominal issues (hernias, stomach surgeries, etc), should check with their doctor. Also, apparently you shouldn’t do any inversions if you are on your period, but I’m pretty sure Patanjali never experienced this one.
Step By Step
Make sure you are warmed up in the spine, neck, and abs before you start. As always with pose progression, you are in no rush. Take it one step at a time, and stop at whichever stage is accessible to you each time you practice. Maybe the
first time you try, you’ll get to Step No. 1, and that’s totally cool. Prepare your space by making sure there is nothing sharp/hard anywhere near your mat, and you have room to fall in all directions. If you feel nervous, place some cushions in front of you for a soft landing.
Step No. 1: Kneeling on the mat, take hold of opposite elbows. Place elbows on the mat and keep them where they are: this is the distance apart which should work best to support you. Release the hands and interlace the fingers. Make a box with the hands. Place your head in the box so that the crown of your head is in the hands and just a few inches from the hairline to the little fingers touch the mat.
Step No. 2: Straighten out your legs. This will feel like a weird, restricted version of Downward Facing Dog, and is the point at which I recommend most people attempting headstand for the first time stay for now; breath, feel, check in.
Step No. 3: Start to slowly walk the feet in towards the body, aiming to get the hips totally above the head. You will feel the weight centralise when you hit the sweet spot of alignment, and at this point it can feel like a lot of pressure down through the head and neck. Correct this by pushing down through your elbow and creating more space between the shoulders and the ears.
Step No. 4: The biggest mistake people make is trying to kick up into headstand. Do not do this! The only way to get safely (and strongly) into this pose is to draw up from the core. Have a go at bending one knee and hugging it into the chest. Come onto the tip-toe of the other leg, and clench the stomach. Can you feel the weight staring to be supported? Try with the other leg.
Step No. 5: Once you have support on both sides, the next step is to hug both knees into the body. Strong in the abs, push down through the elbows.
Step No. 6: Tilt the hips back a little, engage in your stomach and spine, and start to draw your bent knees up. Notice the changes in different parts of your body as the weight shifts. If you start toppling backward, tuck your chin and roll onto your back.
Step No: 7: Straight legs, engaged abs, tucked pelvis; breath, enjoy.
Once you’re upside down and smiling, there’s so much fun to be had in headstand! Here’s some of my juicy favourites:
The traditional Ashtangi headstand involves pike ups/downs and pike holds. This means keeping your legs totally straight and just using your core strength to pull yourself up and lower down into Sirsasana. It’s mega good for the abs, spine, and makes your triceps work harder. The first time I tried this, my whole body just said NOPE (que the usual bruised body and ego I’ve come to expect from new asana work!) – it seemed totally impossible… But as per usual, the Yoga fairy had its way with me and one day it seemed do-able. A few days after that it seemed easy.
Its easier to work with gravity than against it, so start working towards this pose by coming into headstand normally, and then keeping strong straight thighs and draw your attention to your lower belly. Suck in your abs, and start to slightly arch the lower spine (stick ya bum out); start lowering the legs slowly, find the point at which your balance is about to topple, and HOLD for 5 breaths. If you’ve made it this far, keep on lowering your straight legs until you get all the way to the ground. To start with you might come down with a bit of a thump, so remember to soften the knees on impact!
Splits, and Hips
Play time! Once you’re feeling stable, you can experiment however you like. Keep it cool, take it slow, and keep engaged in your abs to protect your spine. See where the wind takes you!
Click on the images for some vids of me trying silly things if you want some play ideas!
TOP TIP for Pose Progression!
After you’ve attempted (and most probably failed at!) a new pose, take a second to sit/lay on your mat and smile for a good 10 breaths. Sounds cheesy, but this genuinely creates positive pathways in the brain that reinforce why we practice in the first place; it’s not about achieving a pose, its about the journey we take to it.
Gushy yoga chat over and out.
Peace, Love, and Coconut Milk Latte's
P.S – I would love to hear about other people’s progress with this pose! My usual disclaimer applies; I am sharing my personal experience as I learn more about my body and mind through Yoga, and am fascinated by how this varies from person to person. My ultimate working progress is as a yoga teacher; help be become the teacher I aspire to be by telling me what works for you!