Is Everything Turned On Its Head
by Tracey Rich
Sometimes, yes, no, maybe, it's debatable! Life can be crazy, but seeing things from both sides now, from up and down, as Joni Mitchell is famous for singing, can help balance out the crazy. Getting a little reset and renewed energy in your brain is a good thing. Practicing headstand is an art form that is not only a balancing act, and one that needs to be approached judiciously, but it can help quiet the mind, while building strength and awareness. It brings fresh blood flow to the face and brain, it builds upward-moving energy, and allows for a fresh perspective. And if you can't stand all the way up, not a problem, headstands are not for everyone. You can still build the strength required for headstand and get a different view of things with other perfectly poised poses.
Please remember, approaching and practicing headstand requires a healthy cervical spine, upper body and abdominal core strength, and the attention and overall body awareness needed to balance upside down. There are so many good poses to work on to develop these areas, as well as props and support mechanisms to begin to approach headstand. Being light and energized from head to toe is a great feeling to experience in this regal, reset pose.
Poses to Focus on for Headstand and Other Inversions:
- Balancing Poses of any sort will help you understand the overall nature of ALL balancing poses.
- Hero Balance in particular can teach the kind of extensional leg energy also necessary in headstand. Focus on how the active extensional, energy in all four planes of the legs connects the whole pose. This engagement will help you find the leg-to-core-torso connection. Staying aware of actively engaging the balls of your feet will energize and activate the whole pose are key to the lightness and balancing aspect of this pose, and similarly in the headstand.
Shoulder Opening and Forearm Strengthening Poses
- Dolphin, Dolphin, Dolphin is one of the ultimate poses in relationship to headstands. This pose, done correctly, teaches the incredibly important triangulation necessary to create and maintain the foundation for headstand. And this pose is exceptional unto itself without ever needing to approach a headstand. Dolphin teaches proper alignment, it builds upper body strength while opening and stabilizing the shoulders. It is a wonderful supplemental asana to use as an inversion alternative to the headstand.
- Downdog likewise opens and strengthens the shoulders and upper arms. It helps to teach a head to upper arm relationship and awareness which can be lost once you turn upside down. Downdog gives its own inversion qualities increasing a gentle blood flow to the head as long as you are not straining in the pose. The hamstring lengthening in this pose will also assist in making sure you have the necessary flexibility to walk up into your headstand without compromising your neck to get into headstand. Do not jump up or throw yourself up into the headstand.
Core Connection Poses
- Plank is a total body awareness pose. It is an upper body strengthener and a total body strengthener. It can be done on the forearms or on the hands. It teaches the extensional energy and awareness necessary to practice a headstand. Doing plank builds core strength and connection. If you are a candidate for the headstand, this pose will build the core strength necessary to lift your body up into the pose.
- Boat position strengthens the front and back of the body teaching mid-body awareness. The boat can also teach us how to balance tension and relaxation. The mid-body is engaged as muscles are wrapping and contracting, while the neck muscles are elongating, consciously remaining neutral and relaxing tension. Tuning into the subtle engagement of the neck while not tensing the neck is a primary headstand awareness.
- Legs Up the Wall is the perfect partial inversion where you can pretty much let it all go. Using proper support under the hips and softening the knees for those with tight hamstrings or lower back sensitivity is encouraged to appropriately relax in this inversion.
- Half Shouldstand focuses on relaxing and releasing tension, and is often used as the calming counterbalance to the headstand. In both poses there should be a focus on maintaining the natural curve in the neck. There is increased blood flow to the neck, throat, and head area in each of these inversions. Both poses help us learn how to be engaged throughout the whole body. Neither headstand nor half shoulderstand should be practiced where gravity is compressing the spine by having unconscious, deadweight in the legs, or by having a lack of body awareness, or being inattentive. Half shoulder stand is a lovely inversion.
- Headstand, for those who feel confident, strong, body aware, and who have no neck issues, is a fun, energizing asana that builds focus, teaches even greater balance and brings lightness to your practice with a focus on upward moving energy. Please be cautious, realistic, and attentive when attempting headstand.