LIGHT ON YOGA…sirsasana
I’ve decided to do a regular post that looks at a different yoga asana each time.
This week it’s Salamba Sirsasana – sanskrit name for supported headstand.
It’s a pose that should be regularly practiced – Iyengar and Ashtanga (the two styles of yoga I practice) include Sirsasana in every class. But trust me, it’s difficult to teach to a large group of people, so some schools might not include them in their regular open classes. Shame, because it’s worth it! It is also a pose that takes alot of dedication, patience and understanding of both your bodies physical limitations and abilities.
Sirsasana is referred to as the ‘King of the Asanas’ because it is so incredibly therapeutic to the body. By inverting, you flush the heart, lungs and brain with new blood. And by nourishing the brain, being the powerhouse of the whole body, you automatically nourish the rest of the body.
Sirsasana assists in moving the nervous system from sympathetic (fight or flight mode) into parasympathetic (the calmer state). When in the parasympathetic mode your body isn’t going into overdrive, fighting for survival or coping with stress. Instead, you are programming your body to be in a state of restoration, healing and nourishment.
The list of benefits is extensive. Sirsasana prevents ear, nose and eye diseases, activates the pineal and pituitary glands aiding in memory. Improves concentration – sharpening the mind, assists digestion, regulates menstrual cycles, slows down the ageing process and is great for the skin –seriously, it makes you glow. It’s the King, the shiz!
But for me, Sirsasana and other inversions are the most challenging yet rewarding asanas because they literally turn our world upside down. Think about it? A new perspective, an unusual way of seeing things. Perhaps when life throws you a challenge the skills learnt in overcoming fear and tackling an inversion come into play.
In the beginning, headstand is terrifying. You don’t know where you are – literally disorientated from left to right, up, down, around. Everything is out of place. It’s hard to trust your body and there is a lot of fear around putting weight on your head, falling and generally feeling clumsy and awkward.
But slowly, and with the expert guidance of a qualified teacher your body starts to adjust and so does your mind. Gradually you begin to believe that it is possible and your edge, that line you walk at your boundary moves further and further away.
For me, it happened consistently but slowly, and that is exactly how I encourage you to learn. Seek out a teacher that can talk you through it step by step. Someone that understands the anatomy of the human body and what needs to happen to which part to get you into it safely and staying in it with strength and vitality.
I believe in learning at the wall first. Some schools of yoga don’t but to me, there aren’t many people out there that have the perfect balance of strength and openness to perform this freestanding from the beginning. Plus, if you are young you may not think you are doing any damaging, but down the track the signs of a poorly performed Sirsasana will come out to nag you!
Here is a step-by-step guide. Although, I strongly advise you practice this with a teacher before attempting at home on your own.
Step by Step
1. Folded a blanket or sticky mat against the wall to pad your head and forearms. Kneel on the floor. Lace your fingers together and set the forearms on the floor. You should be right up against the wall.
2. Measure the correct distance between your elbows by your shoulder width. Press the inner wrists down and make contact with the entire forearm to the mat. Roll the upper arms slightly outward.
3. Place the crown of your head on the floor. If you are just beginning to practice this pose, press the bases of your palms together and press the back of your head against the clasped hands. If you are more experience then you can open your hands and place the back of the head into the open palms.
4. Take a deep inhale and lift your knees off the floor. Carefully walk your feet closer to your elbows. Keep the hips high, trying to walk in until the hips are stacked above the shoulders. Draw the shoulder blades away from your ears – try to avoid letting the weight of the shoulders squashing onto your neck and head. If you get here and it is quite difficult to lift the shoulders. Come down and rest. Keep practising this each day.
5. Exhale and bend one leg and gently kick your opposite leg to the wall. You might not get up, but that’s ok. Simply practice kicking from each leg.
6. Otherwise, if you feel ready to come all the way up. With a little bend in the knees, light bunny-hop up the wall, with both feet at the same time.
7. Keep the tailbone gently down, against the pelvis and keep drawing the shoulders away from the ears. Push away with the heels towards the ceiling. Keep pressing firmly down from elbow to wrist.Soften the fingers – try not to grip to hard – and soften the face, the jaw and the tongue.
8. Try to keep the weight balanced evenly on both forearms and keep lifting and tucking the tailbone away from the lumbar spine and towards the feet. Keep your breath slow, smooth and even.
9. As a beginner only stay for 5-10seconds, building up each time until you can comfortably hold the post for 3 minutes.
10. When you come down, stay firm in your foundation and slowly lower the legs on the exhale.
11. Be mindful not to turn the head/neck whilst inverted and coming down. Rest in child’s pose with your forehead to the mat.
Note: if you feel any tension in the eyes or pressure in the forehead or neck come down and rest fully before exiting the pose. If you have any serious neck injuries please do not attempt this.
One final thing. Sirsasana feels amazing. When you come out of it, it’s like this calm. You know that feeling after a big sigh? That release? It’s just like that, your body is warm, your breath deeper, you are exhausted but it just feels delicious.
Signing off with a big exhale.
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