The King of Asanas – Tips on How to Invert and Evolve
Sirsasana or headstand is one of the 84 classical Yoga Poses found consistently in both ancient and modern yogic texts and purported to be the “King of Asanas.”
Yoga asana practitioners of all levels should never underestimate the immense benefits of this pose and integrate it as often as possible into their practice.
Benefits of Sirsasana Headstand According to Classical Yoga
Firstly, headstand is an inversion – and in fact, is the most acute inversion a human can do with the least amount of muscular effort for long periods of time without hanging from an inversion swing or a tree.
Other inversions are either not placing the body in a complete 90° angle from the floor, like shoulder stand, because the neck and head are actually not totally inverted, or rather they are more gently inverted.
Additionally, poses like handstand and Pincha Mayurasana require so much muscular effort in order to keep the body inverted, that they reduce the amount of time one can hold the pose. Of course, ancient yogic texts encourage holding poses for as long as possible in order to receive the maximum benefits, as well as to unlock the secrets the poses actually hold.
Secondly, headstand stimulates the 7th Chakra directly because there is direct pressure placed on the top of the head. The 7th Chakra is called the Thousand Petaled Lotus and is said to be the seat of Divinity itself. Here, when Kundalini rises, Shiva and Shakti meet in divine union, the Brahma Randhra or portal to the heavens is opened and one can experience Absolute Oneness or Yoga.
Various Yogic texts including the Hatha Yoga Pradipika mention a special secretion called ambrosia, amrita or nectar which secretes from a place in the brain called the bindu visarga. It is symbolized by the crescent moon – like the one often seen placed on the head of the deity Shiva.
Many sannyasins or devout yogis can be seen with shaved heads and one tuft of hair remaining at this one point on the cranium, anatomically located where the bones of the occiput and parietal meet (respectively, the back and side bones of the skull). Some associate this bindu with the pineal gland, the “spiritual” gland and the pituitary gland, a.k.a. the “master gland.”
At the bindu, the drops of nectar secrete and drip down through the body, reducing our innate human vitality and resulting in the inevitable decay of the body. However, through myriad yogic practices, like Sirsasana, meditation, etc, this amrita can be preserved and assimilated into the mind/body, resulting in increased consciousness, reduction of the effects of aging, and eventual enlightenment in this lifetime.
For meditation purposes, it is always best to be grounded at the first chakra with an elongated spine pointing upwards towards the sky.
However, the greatest benefits of asana rest in unlocking the energy dormant inside us. Headstand literally turns everything upside down and shakes us up inside to help awaken and purify the energetic pathways, called bindus, whilst simultaneously stimulating the area of the body with the highest spiritual significance – the 7th Chakra. Through the practice of headstand, the main thoroughfare through which the kundalini travels up through the Shushumna Nadi channel is purified, thereby allowing our spiritual energy to flow with greater ease.
Vital Considerations When Practicing Sirsasana
If you’ve never done headstand before or have never been shown how, you should definitely seek the guidance of a yoga asana teacher. There are many safety considerations when attempting headstand, predominantly because of the sheer amount of weight that is being placed on the head and the more delicate bones of the cervical spine, as well as high or low blood pressure concerns, which should also be considered.
Before actually going up into headstand, you need to have the support of your abdominal, back and neck muscles, flexibility in the pelvis, legs and spine, along with the appropriate alignment of your arms, shoulders, neck, head and spine so that the spine can remain upright and elongated without unnecessary pressure or compression. There are many factors at play.
To practice headstand safely and with intelligence, one can do the following:
- Core work, like Navasana (Boat), Urdhva Prasarita Padasana (Leg Raises)
- Plank Pose- Uttihita Chaturanaga Dandasana– to strengthen the core as well as build strength in the biceps and triceps (upper arms and shoulders)
- Forearm Plank – Makara Adho Mukha Svanasana– to build strength in the shoulders and chest
- Forward and back bends to increase the amount of strength and flexibility in the legs, back, neck and pelvis
- Jalandhara Bandha and Neck Rolls to strengthen and align the neck
- Spinal rolls or Bridge Pose – Setu Bandhasana– to lend more flexibility in the spine, which helps the body to lift the legs straight up above the hips and shoulders
- Hips openers like Baddha Konasana (Butterfly), Upavishta Konasana (Seated Wide Angle), Rajakapotasana (Pigeon) will allow for sufficient flexion in the pelvis and spine in order to counterbalance with your pelvis leaning away from the center of the body, while you raise your legs off of the floor to an upright position
If there are any known health complications like neck injuries, spine injuries, high or low blood pressure, or any concerns when you invert the blood directly to your head (like sinus problems, glaucoma, seizures, stroke, epilepsy, or ear infections), you should ask your healthcare practitioner before attempting headstand.
However, if the correct preparatory poses are done for the body under the guidance of a skilled yoga asana teacher, headstand can be practiced and held for long periods of time. BKS Iyengar expounds the importance of headstand and recommends an entire headstand sequence in order to strengthen one’s balance in the pose, and he suggests remaining inverted for up to 15 minutes.
Pattabhi Jois’s Astanga Yoga also includes headstand in all three series and many variations can be learned through either system. After you become quite comfortable with headstand, you can begin to practice variations of the pose which may allow you to hold a headstand for longer periods of time.
For those with acute injuries to the neck or spine or complications with blood pressure to the head, Sirsasana can also be practiced with that assistance of blocks or an inversion sling, along with the guidance of an experienced yoga asana teacher.
Once proficiency has been gained in the performance of this asana you can shift your focus away from the physical aspects of the pose and begin to focus on the stillness of the body and silence of the mind. In this way, you are reaching the ultimate objective of practicing headstand, which is to stimulate the 7th Chakra in order to awaken the Kundalini Shakti and have Her reunite at the Sahasrara with Shiva Consciousness- the Absolute Self.
The 7thchakra is analogous to the highest state of consciousness you can realize within yourself and is said to be the portal through which we receive the highest spiritual blessings, guidance and divine radiance.
By maintaining present moment awareness throughout our practice, while witnessing and letting go of all thoughts, emotions, and experiences, we purify and stimulate all of the 7 chakras, the nadis and subtle energy bodies, in order to reach our final destination – Absolute Supreme Consciousness.