Thursday, March 26, 2009

Some more thoughts on the Headstand...

Both Jen and blogoyogo's comments about last week's post made me think about the mental challenges of a headstand. Or, maybe, how the physical challenges affect the mind. Anyway, I thought I'd dig into the archives for a sequence that helps prep the body for a handstand (here you go), but also offer a few more thoughts.

I always move very slowly into the pose, both for myself and with my class. You just never know what you're going to feel like, until you're almost there. In class, I have every one come into the tripod at the wall with their knees on the floor so they can adjust their hands and find the right spot on the top of their heads. Then I have them straighten their legs, so they are--sort o--in Dolphin pose, but with their shoulders pressed to the wall. Again, they check their hands and head and see how the additional weight feels.

Then they walk their feet forwards, towards their faces, so the torso comes in line with the shoulders--approximately. Once more, they check their base, how does the neck feel, how do they feel about being this inverted. Then we gently lift one leg and hop on the other foot to get the feeling of lifting off, but without committing the whole body to coming up. Okay? Not okay?

Finally, if all of that feels good and the body feels prepared, I have them kick one foot and then the other over head, so the heels come to the wall above. By now, the inverted feeling is not so foreign and, hopefully, they've made adjustment to their hands and head so the full weight of the body isn't uncomfortable.

I figure, this gives everyone a chance to bail if they want, but also it eases the body into the position, so even nervous students can give the pose a try. Sometimes I need to stop some one from going up, but I can keep an eye on everyone to see who might not make it. Many times I've had hesitant students go up and stay up, because they've felt prepared for the challenge.

See if this approach works for you. If you're relatively new to headstands it might still be a bit clunky, but this way you can ease into the inversion. Like I said, I always do it just to make sure I'm up for it (while I'm still down).


Kristin said...

I've been working on headstands with my classes this winter and I have to say one of the more difficult aspects is encouraging them to move *slowly* into the pose. Part of the difficulty is we're all A-type's doing Ashtanga and Vinyasa... ;)

You mentioned something that I've been contemplating - having people kick up. I've had so many instructors discourage that method because it can lead to 'flinging' and doesn't encourage utilizing the core. Again, I'm coming from that Ashtanga tradition where we really don't use props so we are working in the center of the room.

I like to encourage my students to come to the dolphin-like stance, with head tucked into hands, then move into that modified down dog. From there we walk our toes in and remain there or start to start to let the toes float up. The option also being to walk the toes in then tuck the legs against the body with the heels by the tush.

Something else I've started playing around with - tripod headstand (with blankets under the head). I am AMAZED at the positive response from the students! So many find tripod to be easier to approach (once we get where those arms and hands are supposed to be) because they can rest their knees on their elbows and gain confidence being inverted that way.

Thanks for posting on headstand - it's a facinating pose.

Brenda P. said...

I takes forever to get away from the wall in an Iyengar class (I still do my headstands nearby), so the kicking up is an easy option. That tripod "stage" is a nice idea, too. I'm thinking of doing headstands at the end of my current session, so I might add that as a modification. Thanks for the thoughts.

Yoga Mama said...

I typically don't teach headstands in class but your post inspired me the other day when I had all regulars in class. Thank you!

PetalsYoga said...

I just had a private master class with Yolanda Pettinato in Australia and she had such a unique way of teaching headstand and dolphin. She actually teaches dolphin with legs towards the wall and then up the wall into a 90 degree angle so that the body can begin developing strength for a truly stable tripod headstand. Very very cool.

Yoga Report said...

I recently started teaching yoga and that made me think about my philosophy. I generally teach techniques that i have experience with. So i start with pranayama and asanas. said...

Hi There

Here are my two cents on building confidence in headstand...

I have found that the more I concentrate on the base of the pose BEFORE they kick up, the easier the pose comes.

In my my class I continually repeat these three instructions just before they kick up:
1) Press the outter wrists down and lift the trapezius muscles away from the ears.
2) keep the shoulder blades in towards the chest.
3) (...and most importantly!) Lift the anterior spine towards the hips.

The benefits of this approach appear to be many fold as:
-It straightens the spine, and prevents the compression in the shoulders and neck that I commonly see in first timers
-It reduces the work the abdomen is required to do when they do kick up. (not in a bad way since by redistributing
the work over the arms, the shoulders and the legs it becomes more of a whole body experience)
-It reduces the amount of pressure felt on the top of the head
-It gets rid of discomfort in the shouder area.
-It develops their confidence.

With this knowledge I was able to help several of my students face their fears in headstand. Whether they were in the corner of two walls, against one wall or a little away from the wall, or in the middle of the room.