Image by Neeta Lind via Flickr
When you change your perspective, you change your perspective. Tautology? Not for yogis! Going up side down involves so many parts of our bodies and psyches which we mostly take for granted that doing it consciously really can help you shift your consciousness.
And the way I’ve been teaching headstands has helped me and my students focus on core strength, both abdominally as well as soulfully. So first, I will tell you that head stand is not recommended for people with neck problems, strokes, glaucoma. For me and many people I work with it also involves falling a bit, so clear out any obstacles – furniture, dogs, shoes – and arrange for a soft place to land. If you are worried, place blankets or pillows around. Mostly, practice mindfully: As always, practice honesty with yourself about your own body and practice nonviolence with yourself. Pushing beyond your own limits only grinds samskaras deeper, it won’t dissolve them faster.
So often when we’re getting into headstand we place our hands and forearms on the ground near a wall, interlace the fingers and put our head in the cradle we’ve created. If, however, you find you’re still using the wall to stay upright, take a step back and give yourself more support. Then you’ll find your core strength with more clarity and can explore how that feels while you build it.
The abdominal muscles and the back muscles work together to support you. The back of the belly is just the front of the back. The muscles that we count on, mostly unthoughtfully, through most of our lives to support us while sitting, standing, walking are the same muscles we’re using in headstand to hold ourselves up. So why don’t they work as well?
Because of the imbalances of everyday life right side up. Just as we overcome natural, instinctual fears of falling when we go up side down, we overcome the natural and habitual ways we “hold ourselves up” both physically and psychologically through the challenges and joys of our days. We’re learning new ways and connections to the deep muscles of alignment. So give some thought to what you align yourself in your everyday life as you’re preparing for this sequence. (The sequence I’ll describe is tadasana – malasana – bakasana – shirsasana and reverse).
Start in tadasana a couple of feet from facing a wall. Close your eyes, hands in anjali mudra in front of your heart. Inner spiral your thighs, press them apart, connect through your feet. Feel the back of the pelvis become open and your abdomen firmly supporting your spine. Roll your shoulders up to your ears and melt them down your back, feeling your sternum curl up to the sky and your heart open from the strength of your stance. Relax your tongue, and open your eyes.
Move your feet a little wider than hip width apart. Squat. You might want to use a blanket under your heels so you are fully supported, if they come up off the ground. Press the outside of your elbows into the insides of your knees and visa versa, hands still in anjali mudra. You are now in malasana, garland pose. Melt into the garland.
From here, place your hands on the floor in front of you, inside your knees and just in front. Keep your knees on or near your elbows. Dive forward, intentionally placing the crown of your head on the floor about six inches in front of your hands (you’ll know where it feels a comfortable distance). If your knees aren’t already on your elbows, bring them up one at a time. You are now in what is commonly called “tripod”. Your head and the palms of both hands are on the floor, the knees supported on the rigiht angles of the arms. You can stay here to explore, or …
Bring your awareness to your belly. Spend a minute really exploring what you are feeling there. When you are firmly rooted in this place, consciously begin to bring your knees in & up using the strength of your belly. Feel the muscles come back and feel the stretch from your sternum to your pelvis. When your legs are overhead, notice the relationship between your belly and your back in keeping them there. Allow yourself to sway and notice the emotions coming up. Touch them with your consciousness gently but keep your attention in your core. Make your legs strong, inner spiral the thighs, point & spread your toes, feel your calves hug into the bone. Shine your heart out towards your hands. Notice how this affects your balance.
When you are ready to come down, Focus on your breath, steady and smooth. Bend your knees and tuck in & down til the knees are on your elbows again and then rock back through bakasana into malasana, resting for a moment before stretching back to standing. You may now be ready for sivasana, or you may want to explore some one sided balance poses, such as vrkasana or garundasana.
Always observe your own capabilities and needs, listen to your own inner guru (the only one who matters!).