Dreaming of Yoga and Headstands-Finding Balance On and Off the Mat
Toppling out of headstand is one of my first memories of yoga. The only real instruction I was given was to interlock my fingers, put my elbows on the ground and just try.
I can still remember my first attempt to do a headstand without a wall. It was in a traditional Mysore Style self practice class. The teachers and assistants really helped people in the closing postures, of which headstand is one. There were no available walls, so I decided to give it a try. If there was one thing about me, it was that I was not afraid to fall. So, as I set my arms and hands in position, I faced the great obstacle of lifting my legs and hips up into the air. I kicked up with so much force that there was no option other than to land all the way over in a backbend. Seeing as I didn’t hurt myself, but confused as to why I wasn’t in a headstand, I tried again. And again. And again. A year later I managed to find a balance.
You might find it hard to believe but headstand was a really difficult posture for me. It was the first posture that felt totally and utterly impossible. Headstand taught me how to slowly build strength, pick myself back up repeatedly, and have faith. One thing I wish I had back then that I have now, is a solid understanding of technique, alignment and movement mechanics. While I greatly appreciate the journey that it took me to reach headstand, there were so many times that I felt like I was walking blindly down a path with no sense of direction. So much of what I teach today is built on sharing the lessons that I’ve learned along my own journey. It is my hope that you will benefit from the directions that I learned so that you will feel you are confidently moving forward along both the physical and the spiritual path.
Yoga for me has always been a door into the inner world. The poses are not ends in and of themselves, but instead tools for deep learning and growth. So, while I share the technique of headstand with you, I encourage you to ask yourself what the lesson of this posture really is about for you. Asking that question will set your goal on the true meaning of yoga – the life learning that you take off the mat and use to make your world a better place.
Perhaps what is most important when thinking about any yoga posture is to understand that you are not a better person once you achieve a particular shape of the body. Instead, think about what learning you take from the posture and how that can make you a better person. In the yoga practice we value and respect the work that’s put in more than the achievements of the pose. If you’re just starting out you may feel that Yoga is almost like an obsession. You almost cannot stop thinking about a particular posture that’s challenging for you. That’s a very good thing because it keeps you motivated to keep coming back to your mat. Use that energy for more than just the physical, channel your inspiration into the deepest work of the practice, and you’ll find that the journey of yoga will lead you into a more peaceful life.
Here are some tips for a good solid headstand. You can read them in the blog below and follow up by watching this tutorial video on my online channel Omstars and also on my YouTube channel.
1. Solid foundation—
The key to finding stability in headstand begins with the shoulders. Stabilize the muscles of the shoulder girdle to create a solid foundation. Press the elbows firmly into the ground and track the elbows in line with the shoulders. While the hands play a role in creating the tripod shape of the headstand, the real power has to originate from the shoulders.
To enter headstand, think about stacking the body over the solid foundation of the shoulders. Start by placing the head firmly in the center of the tripod shape created between the elbows and interlock the hands. Then place the rib cage and the torso over this solid foundation. Finally send the hips forward and up to stack them along the centerline of the body while keeping the foundation in the shoulders strong. This will set you up for a good headstand prep. I recommend holding this posture without trying to lift your feet off the ground for between five and 20 breaths to build strength.
3. Hips forward and up—
When you feel that your foundation is solid and you are ready to lift your feet off the ground, focus on the hips not the feet. Your center of gravity is inside the pelvis. When you move your pelvis, you’ll move your whole body. In order to lift the feet off of the ground, you will need to activate the muscles of the lower abdomen and pelvic floor while thinking about sending your hips forward and up. The hips will move slightly beyond the centerline to counterbalance the weight of the legs. This critical moment requires even stronger foundation in the shoulders. Bending the knees slightly on the entry will help decrease the amount of compensation and counterbalance that the pelvis will make and make the balance easier.
4. Headstand tuck—
Rather than extending the legs right away, I recommend finding the balance with both knees bent into the chest first. This allows you to control the headstand with your front body strength and prevents toppling over.
5. No Bananas—
I love ripe tasty bananas, just not In headstand. If you enter this pose with a sway back you can place a lot of pressure on the joints of the lower spine. Balancing in a banana shape also communicates misalignments along the spine. This pattern only gets accentuated when you learn more challenging inversions. I recommend for all students to focus on creating a vertical axis and a strong centerline orientation in headstand. You can do this by tucking the tailbone slightly, drawing the lower ribs in, and integrating the activation of the legs into the position of the pelvis.