Yesterday, we did headstands in class, which was both exhilarating and scary for my students (I think). If you are used to this intense inversion, the experience of being upside down can be a nice change in perspective; if it has been 20-30 years since the last headstand, it can be rather threatening—am I about to snap my neck? The key is to move into it slowly and see how your body feels at each stage of the preparation, before finally kicking up. You can even stay in the tripod and just kick a few times to feel how the weight starts to shift, but not actually bring your legs overhead.
The other key is to think of the pose as a chest opener, even if the arms are in front of the body. If you don’t engage the upper back by drawing the shoulder blades together and down (away from the neck), the torso will sag and you will put extra weight on your head. You need to feel that opening across the chest and that pressure of the forearms to the floor to keep the spine long all the way from the skull to the tailbone. The following practice will emphasize this opening, so when you do come up, you can already have the feeling in your body.
Give it a try, with your thoughts in your chest and upper back. If you haven’t done a headstand for awhile, just do the prep poses and keep the feet on the floor in the half-headstand (or Dolphin pose). Enjoy the feeling of upside down (and keep an eye on your cat or dog--or toddler--this pose seems to encourage pets and kids to sit right by your face, Achoo!).
Tadasana (Mountain Pose)-Feel your tall, aligned spine as you ground down through your feet and stretch up through the top of the head. Gently draw the shoulder blades together and down the back (but don’t arch the upper back).
Hastasana (Overhead Arm Pose)-Add the arm stretch and feel the side ribs lift, while keeping the shoulders away from the ears. Bring your attention to the shoulder blades, again, but maintain the length in the spine.
Uttanasana (Intense Forward Bend)-Fold from the hips while stretching through the backs of the legs. Keep the weight balanced between the balls and heels of the feet. Bend the knees slightly to release the lower back and let your torso hang.
Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog)-Keep the spine elongated while the shoulder blades slide down the back (away from the shoulders). Although you are inverted, concentrate on keeping the chest open and the arms strong (as they were in Hastasana).
Balasana (Child’s Pose)-Come down to the floor and let the whole body relax
Salamba Sirsasana (Headstand)-Try this against the wall, or, better yet, in a corner so that you have support at your back and heels. Use a folded blanket under the head and forearms for cushioning. Keep the elbows shoulder-distance apart (but not more) so you can press the forearms to the floor. Kick up each leg separately, until the heels are against the wall. Try to recall the aligned feeling from Tadasana, except this time reach through the head to the floor and the heels to the ceiling. Recreate the open chest/engaged arms and shoulder from Dog so the upper body doesn’t sag.
Half Headstand-if you’re not ready for the full pose, try this modification. Make a tripod with the hands and forearms and place the top of the head (halfway between the ears) on the floor so the palms are resting against the back of the head and the knuckles are gently resting against the wall. Straighten the legs as for Dog, so that only part of the torso’s weight is balanced on the head. Slowly walk the feet forwards to bring the back closer to the wall
Balasana (Child’s Pose)-Lower yourself back to the floor and rest as long as you like.
Seated twist-Take advantage of your stretched-out torso as you slowly twist the ribcage around the spine, while sitting in Sukhasana (Easy Pose).
Savasana (Corpse Pose)-try to recreate the alignment from your Mountain and Headstand, while releasing all your muscles into the support of the floor. ©Brenda K. Plakans. All Rights Reserved.