Going into sirsasana safely (floating instead of kicking up) requires a practice of opening the hips and releasing the hamstrings, which invites a 'letting go' process quite deeply. It requires strengthening the back and core which builds confidence and it requires stepping into a place of trust as you allow yourself to 'fall' past your comfort zone. This is what allows you to float effortlessly into the pose. Instead of gripping through your core and fighting your way into the asana, which causes the legs to tip forward; when we allow ourselves to rock past the point where we think we might fall, we actually find ourselves in an effortless place of balance and surrender. And this is what the yoga practice is about, softening into effortlessness within postures that challenge us, so that we might transition into the poses (and life) without gripping and creating tension. It is the development of tension free strength physically and emotionally.
Here is a sequence from a recent class that I taught in our Calgary studio.
To prepare for sirsasana practice we need to look at it as peak pose. We need to warm up the legs, hips and back with a flow practice that includes dynamic standing variations of:
warrior 2 and side angle pose to open the adductors lizard pose and lunge pose to warm up the hip flexors and IT band pyramid pose and wide leg forward fold to release the hamstrings
Once we have warmed the body, it is time to sink more deeply into these muscles in some seated postures. For class this week, I chose:
head to knee pose seated forward fold all to further release the adductors, hamstrings and back
As we prepared ourselves for headstand, we moved into a series to strengthen the back and stabilize the pelvis using variations of locust pose. The benefit of strengthening the back was two fold here. Strengthening the back has an energetic effect on the bladder meridian, where we tend to hold emotions like fear and through strengthening the back we are able to 'float' into the pose with strength and grace.
Setting up the hands. Stack the pinky fingers and imagine holding a tennis ball. Elbows forearm distance apart.
Place your head against the base of the hands. Remember to keep space between the palms and head as though holding a tennis ball. Walk the legs toward your head and slowly allow a tipping sensation through your pelvis. Lift through the shoulders, wrapping through the ribs and put less pressure onto your head to protect your c-spine.
As you lean a little bit more, lift one leg and allow it to lead your further into a 'falling' sensation. You will reach a tipping point where your other leg begins to peel off the floor.
Engage your thigh muscles (adductors). This uses your true core. Allow yourself to settle into the pose. You will feel like you are slightly further back than you want to be at first.
Draw the legs together and continue to lift through the shoulders.
Supported Headstand, teddy bear pose
Disclaimer: We recommend seeking the guidance of an experienced teacher to ensure that you have the necessary shoulder mobility and stability to practice this pose safely. We strongly suggest practicing the preparatory poses mentioned in this blog along with work to release and strengthen the shoulders. In our studio, we do not introduce this version of headstand to students until we are confident that they are able to float into teddy bear pose with the supports of blocks under the shoulders to prevent any injury to the neck.