We come to yoga to feel good but it’s not that simple always. Sometimes we come to battle our worst fears or unleash special courage and endurance which may not have existed before. That’s the kind of possibility you can discover when you step onto the yoga mat.
Let me be honest, I did get a mini panic attack when my instructor asked me to try the headstand during my very first yoga class. I wasn’t quite thrilled to turn my world upside down. If you’re attempting a headstand for the first time it can be a bit intimidating. I was scared of breaking my neck and when I somehow got there I couldn’t stay balanced for more than half a second! I’m no Yogi, yet there I was trying a second attempt which was far less successful. But more importantly, I got a sense of why it’s worth learning this new skill.
Yoga guru Mini Shastri tells me that the headstand when mastered and practiced with dedication is one of the most invigorating and energizing yoga poses. Mini points out that the Sirasanana (sirsa means the head) or the Headstand has a great anti-gravity effect that improves your circulation and helps internal organs regain their efficiency.
“Inverted postures especially the headstand and shoulder stand are unique innovations of our Yoga practice. They assist the venous flow of blood towards the heart which engorges with blood while in headstand, thus strengthening the muscles of the heart. In Yogic parlance, the headstand powers a sluggish Apana Vayu which means that it facilitates the downward and outward flow of energy from the body. At the same time, the Agni or the digestive fire also gets powered. This helps in cleaning the intestines while releasing congested blood in the colon and thus, improving digestion,” she says.
There is no right way to get into the pose as long as you practice safely. However, there is a wrong way. Don’t jump into a headstand. If you don’t have core and shoulder strength, you’re not ready to attempt a headstand. The weight on the head is only about thirty per cent while the rest of the body bears most of the pressure. The vertebrae of the neck, the shoulders with all their supporting muscles and the core have to be prepared over many sessions to practice the headstand. Yoga instructor Mini Shastri suggests few things to consider before going up:
1. The arms, shoulders, pectorals and stomach have to be strong enough to take the weight off the delicate neck. Practicing poses like the boat pose, dolphin plank and wide legged forward bend can really help.
2. The breaths especially the out breath have to be long in order to power the effects of the pose. You cannot practice this pose if your breath is laboured and clumsy.
3. Build the stamina to hold the pose with time. Headstands should be practiced diligently till when you can hold the pose for at least 5 minutes. You may start with 1-2 minutes.
4. It can be done every day except during a woman’s period cycle.
5. The headstand brings alertness and wakefulness thus should be attempted in the day and not before bed time.
To begin, perform the headstand against wall for support and only under the supervision of an experienced trainer. A headstand is not a quick fix, it’s all about recognizing and nourishing. In case you’re wondering, I’m still trying to perfect mine with little success.