For many of us yoga is a necessity, it is part of a rhythm, part of life. It can serve as a daily meditation to connect us with the present, to ground us, re-centre us, as well as being a thorough exercise routine. There are countless different yoga ‘flows’ or practices and poses which vary in intensity both physically and spiritually. Some, for example, focus on relaxation, others on physical challenge.
One pose that definitely catches the attention is the headstand. I don’t know about you but I have always looked at the headstand and assumed that the person achieving it must be an old yogi, a fully-fledged guru at the art of yoga, and secretly wished I could do it myself. I have practiced yoga plenty of times but would no way assume to be experienced, and as they say you can practice your whole life and still have room for improvement – it is not something that can be completely mastered. So when I set out to see if it was possible to try the headstand at my level of yogic achievements I came across some very interesting information on the health benefits that can come with practicing it.
BENEFITS OF THE HEADSTAND OR ‘SIRSASANA’
RELEASE: One of the biggest burdens of the modern world is stress, so any methods to relieve us of it are welcomed. The sirsasana pose, or headstand, is known as a “cooling” posture. This means that our focus is pulled inwards during such a position. Once in sirsasana comfortably and your breathing is in a good, slow rhythm you will feel the stress literally melting away. The pose has also been attributed to the relief of chronic lower back pain and increased trunk flexibility and back strength.
FLOW: The change in body position during the headstand allows our blood to flow in a new direction, this means that all the parts of us that generally are up, are now down and gravity provides them with nutrient-rich oxygen from which the eyes, scalp, brain all benefit. Taking the fluids away from the legs and feet for a moment in the day can help to relieve fluid build up and prevent Edema or fluid retention.
FOCUS: The aforementioned blood flow benefits achieved by the headstand can help to improve our mental focus. The blood flow to the brain can increase our focus and keep us thinking clearly.
CORE: This position really strengthens the core, in fact this is where you should feel most of the muscular impact during the pose. You’ll need a relatively strong abdominal area to be able to achieve the pose and hold it. Once your balance is set then it may well feel relatively easy and you can relax into it.
STRENGTH: As well as the core, your shoulders and arms also do some of the work here, ensuring that the pressure stays well away from your neck. You will find your posture may improve with practice as well as your upper body strength.
BALANCE: As well as physical balance the headstand also benefits our hormonal balance. The movement and gravitational alteration helps to flush the adrenal system and allow our hormones to function more effectively. The headstand position can also help to shift our digestive systems a little, allowing trapped gases to be released as well as upping the nutrient absorption and allowing blood flow to the organs to be improved.
STIMULATE: The lymphatic system can be directly affected by the headstand pose simply by the stimulation of being upside down. This helps our body to flush out and remove toxins.
HOW DO I KNOW I’M READY?
A headstand is not a pose to be taken lightly, and not something a total beginner should attempt. It is recommended that you have an experienced, qualified teacher with you at all times during practice to be able to support your head and neck, make sure you do the pose correctly, and do not hurt yourself. Until they feel you are ready to attempt it alone, don’t risk it. This is a healing position but only if it is done right, so it is imperative that we follow important guidelines set out by those who know.
Please note: You should avoid headstands altogether if you have existing back, neck, spinal, or any upper body injuries or problems or are pregnant. If you have any doubts as to whether inverted poses are ok for you to attempt you should consult your doctor beforehand.
That said, I did have a go at the headstand (with an experienced, qualified teacher) and was pleasantly surprised to find that I could actually do it after not as many attempts as I would have imagined!
STEP BY STEP
Should you decide that you’re ready to try the pose (with your teacher) here are some simple step by step instructions on how to try the headstand pose using a wall for support. Expert practitioners will advise that you should be midway through a yoga practice or fully warmed up (arms, shoulders, upper body, core, and hamstrings at least) before attempting the headstand. This way you are prepared physically, but not too tired to focus and achieve it.
- Take your mat and place it alongside a blank wall (remove pictures or anything that could obstruct you).
- Get into an all fours position, head towards the wall.
- Clasp your hands together intertwining the fingers close to, but not touching, the wall.
- Position your elbows a little less than shoulder-width apart.
- Place the top of your head, your crown, down on the mat or cushion so that the back, rounded part of your head slips in between your hands and sits snugly within the cup of your intertwined fingers.
- Apply pressure with the forearms, feel that from the elbows to the wrists there is a platform pressing down against the mat.
- Lift the knees slowly off the ground keeping your feet in place. Try to get your legs as straight as possible, a slight bend is fine.
- Now walk the feet towards the wall slowly until your shoulders are positioned directly above your elbows. Now raise the shoulders towards the wall – away from the floor, and lengthen your neck.
- Keep walking the feet towards the wall until your shoulders are a little further toward the wall than your elbows. Keep your head in place throughout.
- Now keep your head, shoulders and arms as they are and strong. Engage your abdominals and pull one knee in towards your chest moving the heel towards your bottom. Do the same with the other leg.
- Now rest your pelvis against the wall and one by one straighten your legs along the wall until both are completely straight, heels against the wall.
- You are now in a headstand position supported by the wall. Engage your core and gently try to move yourself away from the wall, hold and breathe.
To get down from the position try to reverse the steps; tuck the knees back towards the chest one by one and lower the feet to the floor. Walk the feet away from the wall until you can comfortably place your knees on the ground. And release the head and hands.
Once you have practiced this version enough, and as you start to feel more confident, you can begin to move your positioning a little further away from the wall until eventually the wall becomes unnecessary and you can do it alone (with a teacher!).
Online distance learning diploma course in Yoga
Here at the School of Natural Health Sciences we offer a comprehensive, fully accredited Yoga course that offers a Practitioner/Therapist level qualification on successful completion. The course covers the basic benefits for obtaining relaxation through the principle of Yoga and includes an easy to follow detailed routine. This stand alone course is aimed at students who wish to obtain competence in practising and working with clients.