Hatha Yoga

The Headstand - Shirshasana


Introduction

Sirshasana is the first of the 12 basic postures of hatha yoga. It is said to be the most important of all. It has earned the nickname: king of asanas. Its benefits are numerous.
Since the yogi is standing on the head, more weight tends to rest on the neck and to counteract this tendency, it is important to follow the proper technique.

Physical Benefits

  • Brings fresh blood to the brain
  • Rests the heart by using gravity to stimulate veinous return
  • Relieves pressure from the veins in the lower body (varicose veins)
  • Encourages deeper breathing, therefore strengthens the lungs and increases one's vitality
  • Relieves pressure in the lower back
  • Improves physical balance

Energetic (Pranic) Benefits

  • Sublimates gross, sexual energy into subtle, spiritual energy called ojas

Mental Benefits

  • Helps overcome fear
  • Better concentration
  • More acute memory
  • Higher intellectual capacities
  • Sharpens the senses
  • Improves mental balance

Spiritual Benefits

  • More ojas means better meditations
  • Helps assimilate the vedantic teachings by looking at life from a different angle

Technique

After an initial child's pose there are eight steps to carefully follow in order to practice the headstand properly:
  • 1. Kneel down and grab your elbows with your hands.
  • 2. Keep the elbows where they are and interlock the fingers in front of you. Elbows and hands now form an equilateral triangle.
  • 3. Place the very top of your head on the floor with the back of your head resting against the fingers.
  • 4. Straighten the knees, raise your hips, your body now resembling an inverted V. The weight should be about equally distributed between your head/arms and the feet.
  • 5. Keeping your knees straight as much as possible, walk with little steps, bringing your feet as close as possible to your head. This will shift the weight from the feet onto the head/arms. Keep your back as straight as possible to prevent your neck from arching.
  • 6. Bend the knees keeping them close to the chest and your feet close to your buttocks. Shift the hips to keep your balance.
  • 7. Keep your knees bent and point them to sky.
  • 8. Now and only now straighten your legs. Keep your feet relaxed. Make sure that the head is supporting no more than 10% of your body weight, the rest being applied on the elbows. At first hold it for 5 seconds. Increase gradually to 10 to 15 minutes.


Come back into the child's pose slowly and with control retracing the steps in reverse order. Take three to five deep breaths and relax on your back.
Do not use the wall at any time as this could be dangerous in case of a fall and would allow you to hold the posture longer than your body is ready for.


Contra-indications

It is recommended not to do the headstand if you have high or low blood pressure, glaucoma or other eye disease, or any neck problems. Consult your doctor or chiropractor before practicing.

The headstand is part of the basic yoga class.





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