Thinking back to all the major growth experiences of your sweet life, did they ever happen because everything went swimmingly was perfect and it all slotted into place or because you had a blip and learned from stumbling, tripping, picking yourself back up again and everything not going according to plan?
I didn’t grow stronger through smiles, I grew stronger through heartbreak, tears and struggles. But I appreciated that growth through smiles.
“The wound is the place where the light enters you.” ~ Rumi
Yoga can be a therapeutic tool, enabling us to surface and work through some deeper seated issues we don’t get to release or work through on a normal day-to-day basis. Sometimes you just have to fall or fail to take a big step forwards and overcome our fears.
Sirsasana, headstand, is one of those postures that freaks people out. The thought of standing on your head is so much more difficult to imagine than standing on your feet. Once upon a time we took the decision to learn how to stand on our feet and we fell over more times than we have ever done in our life, sometimes we cried, but most of the time we laughed at the joy of learning.
Every 3 – 5 years there’s a surge of negative press around headstand and whether it should or shouldn’t be taught in classes. For me it’s an incredibly important and empowering posture and I will continue to offer students the opportunity to learn it if they want. For some even the strength building before the posture and just making the tripod with the hands and head is a major breakthrough, nothing is more priceless than the smile of somebody sitting up after a breakthrough like that.
Contraindications to Sirsasana
Anybody with existing neck problems, a back injury, high blood pressure, or Glaucoma should avoid this pose. Any bone related conditions affecting the vertebrae like Osteoporosis or Osteoarthritis if there are bony spurs in the cervical vertebrae, should obviously avoid this posture. Pregnant women who have an existing practice can continue with Sirsasana if comfortable, but it’s not the best time to start with a Sirsasana practice. A pregnant woman knows instinctively what is right and wrong for her body at this time. Tap into this and go with what works for you at this time, every woman is different.
Many women opt not to practice inversions whilst menstruating, whether due to the reverse flow of blood or reversing the flow of energy at a time when we want that downward, eliminating Apana-Vayu energy to flow. This is entirely a personal choice and what each individual woman feels comfortable with. Personally, I omit inversions for the first 2-3 days of heavy flow and bring back in towards the end. My body/mind/soul craves headstand too much to leave it out of my practice for too long.
It’s advised not to eat anything other than fruit for two hours before yoga class and this is especially true with inversions, I had a student who despite advice to the contrary, used to eat toast before coming to class. He had a persistent cough he put down to air conditioning & frequent travelling, but it was infact due to the digestion process not completing and coming back up.
If your body is fit and healthy, you have been building strength gradually and are comfortable & keen to practice headstand then this is entirely your choice. Just like with the feet, it’s a question of distributing the weight effortlessly to get an almost weightless feeling. Pushing down into a strong base of the arms, the neck is long, with a strong core and lifting from the hips, the feet feel like they are reaching for the sky, rather than compacting vertebrae.
“The cervical vertebrae are small and delicate compared to the lumbars, but that doesn’t mean they are so fragile they can’t take any weight. After all, when upright, the cervical spine is supporting the weight of the head. It’s a question of intention, distribution and joint balance.” – Yoga anatomist Leslie Kaminoff
Yoga teachers can guide the student through the physical steps of the posture but it is you, the student who has to be honest about the capabilities of your body. If you are overweight you might put too much pressure on your vertebrae. If you are weak in your shoulders and core, don’t rush up into headstand for ego purposes, spend time building your foundation. No yoga postures should be strained or painful. You should be able to breathe evenly, or you are forcing. The breath is a good indicator of how far you should go in postures.
I’m going through the same experience with Surfing. It scares the hell out of me, but the more I get smashed up by the waves, the more I eat shit, the more I realise I can handle it and that I have nothing to be afraid of. The main things people are worried about with headstand is falling out and hurting themselves. The people who make the fastest progress aren’t the ones in the best physical condition, it’s the ones in the best mental condition and those who fall early on. Instinctively tucking and rolling themselves out of the fall, they release there was nothing to be worried about and throw themselves into practicing headstand, maybe with a little too much vigour! Don’t get me wrong, overcoming my fear of the waves is taking a long time, but when I look back at the water I used to be in versus now, there is most definitely progress! Take a slow little grasshopper and you will succeed!
I once spent a good chunk of a wonderful yoga class practicing with the amazing Iyengar teacher Alex at Magic Park, Arambol, Goa just falling out of headstand. Falling and going back up again, falling and back up again, falling, falling, falling. it was exhilarating and freeing.
How to sirsasana to follow in the future, for now, the first lesson – how to fall.