Headstand, or Salamba Sirsasana (sah-LOM-bah shear-SHAHS-anna), is touted as the King of All Asanas. My relationship with this pose has vacillated as I’ve become a more experienced practitioner and teacher. One thing that’s had a profound influence on how I relate to Headstand is my choice to view this pose through a “product over process” lens.
I posit that many student and teacher approach Headstand ineffectively. To be clear, “ineffective” doesn’t necessarily mean wrong, bad or otherwise. I’ll add the caveat to never trust what I say speciously; instead, I invite you to faithfully integrate – or “try on” – my suggestions first.
If what I offer works, keep using it and continue growing. If what I offer doesn’t work for you, feel free to discard it & return to your previous approach.
One of the typical progression pathways into Salamba Sirsana is: (1) Tripod Headstand, (2) Headstand, and then (3) Shoulder Stand. It’s always painful to witness a newbie in Tripod, or Headstand, when they’re in full-on neck wobble & leg flail mode.
One justifiable reaction to seeing these students might be: “STOP DOING HEADSTAND,” but I’m not at all interest in being justified. And, while I’ve almost exclusively removed Headstand from my personal practice, in place of Shoulder Stand, I still do practice it. My preference for Shoulder Stand is because I sense there’s more value in decompressing the cervical spine & placing the neck in traction.
Piously warning students of the dangers of Headstand has always felt a touch puritan in it’s logic – like the “Abstinence Only” method that warning young people about the dangers of promiscuity.
So, in the spirit of not abandoning a crude analogy, consider my next tip yoga’s equivalent of contraception for practicing Headstand that is, if you’re gonna do it, you might as well protect yourself.
Here’s my suggested roadmap for progressing into Headstand:
- Work one-on-one with a credible teacher that you trust.
- Dolphin (with knees up or down, depending on level of experience).
- Dolphin with feet on blocks (and pelvis elevated).
- [Starting from the above progression] Float into Shoulder Stand
- Float from Headstand to Shoulder Stand.
The only principle rules for moving from one progression to next are: (a) you must be able to maintain the previous posture for (a minimum of) 5 breaths, and (b) you must be able to exit the pose with grace (no “crashasana” allowed).
I’ll admit that I love seeing the product of my own practice because it makes me feel proud, accomplished, and (truthfully) it massages my ego. Yet, if we’re ever interested in advancing beyond a purely physical, ego-centric practice, it’s essential to shift our attention from a product mindset to falling back in love with the whole process.
Much love and happy moving!