Sirshasana, often referred to as the King of the asanas, is a tremendously beneficial posture for the body and mind. Inverting the body reverses the effects of gravity which is good for the heart and circulatory system and relieves lower (lumber) back pressure. Regular practice increases the health of the sense organs by supplying the brain and spinal cord with nutrient and oxygen rich blood. It induces slower rates of respiration and heart rate which indicates improved health in their corresponding systems. Disorders of the nerves, eyes, ears, nose and throat are improved by practicing this posture. The headstand relieves varicose veins, renal colic, nervous or hepatic asthma and constipation. The organs of the abdominal cavity when inverted are relieved of the normal compression of gravity aiding their function.
At a psychological level mastering this posture helps to conquer fears and improves a sense of balance, centering and groundedness. The headstand improves memory, concentration and intellectual capacity. Nervous disorders are greatly improved by practicing this posture. The qualities of self-confidence and empathy are enhanced. The headstand is also good for brahmacharya or restraint of sexual activity as seminal energy is transmuted into Ojas-shakti or spiritual energy which is stored in the brain. This is an aid to our spiritual practice and unfoldment.
It is important that the posture be learnt and held correctly. It is also good to learn to roll out of the posture safely should you loose your concentration and balance.The elbows need to be close and the top of the head rests on the mat to ensure that the body is aligned and vertical. Any kind of leaning or excessive curve of the spine is going to lead to unnecessary strain and exertion making holding the pose for some duration impossible. The head needs to be pushing into the cup of the hands and a downward pressure applied to the forearms to ensure that the full weight of the body is not taken by the head or neck. The back of the upper arm is long which ensures that the spine remains vertical. Breathing needs to be long, steady and rhythmic to calm the emotions and focus the mind. The attention initially can be focused on the abdomen where the centre of gravity is located. With practice our sense of balance moves below the level of conscious awareness and we can focus on our breath or a mantra and meditate in the posture.
Counter-indications for this posture are high blood pressure, glaucoma, a detached retina and recent eye surgery. It is also best to avoid this posture if you have had a recent neck injury, the nose is heavily blocked, or if you have a headache. If you are pregnant it is advised not to practice beyond four months into the pregnancy as the centre of gravity is changed by the presence of the growing child and a fall may risk its safety. That said however some women who are regular and confident practitioners do practice this posture much further into their term.
Some focused effort may be required in the initial stages of learning the posture. This may require practicing an exercise called the Dolphin to develop some arm strength and help us to learn to put weight on the forearms as most of the body’s weight rests on the arms. A further exercise called the half -headstand, a posture with the body inverted and the feet remaining on the ground, teaches us to ensure we are mentally calm upside down and to control the amount of weight we have on our heads. Then we can learn to lift the feet and find our balance and proceed to learn to roll out safely when we loose our balance so we don’t need the use of a wall.
Once the basic posture has been mastered there are many variations of the posture that can be learnt which will help you to explore the space above you and improve your strength, balance and flexibility. It is good to built up some endurance and so you can hold the headstand for a least three minutes before learning variations to the basic posture like the sissors, splits, twisting, leg raises, lotus, scorpion and various hand release variations.
With regular practice our confidence builds until we have mastered this rewarding and beneficial posture and practicing it’s variations becomes fun and leads to a deeper understanding of our body and Yoga asana.