In the first blog post of this series, we discovered how to find the crown of the head and the safe introductory practices to begin moving into headstand. Here, we will gain more strength, steady our alignment and build confidence to fully invert the body.
Let’s begin where we left of with our heads on the floor, wrapped with the hands and the forearms. Tuck the toes so the knees can lift and straighten. This is a great place to work on core and upper body strength. Be sure that your shoulders are away from your ears (moving up towards the hips) and the upper body feels strong, holding 2/3 of your body weight. You can even play by pushing so firmly into the forearms that the head lifts off the floor. Moving in this way up and down creates great body awareness for when you do decide to fully invert.
The next step is to walk the feet forward, towards your face. Keep the shoulders engaged and begin to notice two things: 1. The core has to become more active to keep the spine from rounding. And 2. The hamstrings need flexibility for this to happen with ease. Leg lifts can help strengthen the core and forward folds are helpful for the hamstrings.
To continue to evolve this pose with integrity, stay high on the toes and tuck one knee in towards the chest. Switch legs. This is a great way to gain more core control. The next step is to take one of the legs straight up towards the sky, effectively practicing about ¾ of a headstand. Again, be sure to switch legs.
If all this is feeling good, lets consider getting you all the way upside down!
A note of caution. Please feel free to have a wall close behind you as you begin to practice your headstands. But, do not over rely on the wall to “catch” you. If you do this, you’ve lost your internal control of the pose and who knows what could happen. The wall is there for a little balance and a security blanket of sorts. If you hear your heels clunk the wall or your whole body is resting on it you are not quite ready to fully invert.
If there is a wall behind you, please have about 6 inches between your knuckles and the wall. Begin as before with the head on the floor, cradled by your arms, hips high, and legs straight. Walk the toes in so the hips are more over the shoulders and tuck one knee up towards the chest. Lightly press off the other toes, keeping your balance and tuck the second knee in towards the chest. Right here is a phenomenal place to pause and feel your body. When ready, extend the legs up towards the sky, one at a time or both together.
Another option is to extend one leg up towards the sky and to lift the second leg up with mindful awareness. Please, no rapid kicking up. In this version, you are more likely to use the wall with one or both of your feet.
Utilizing the wall is simple, but may not be immediately apparent. If both feet are on the wall, you are likely in a little back bend, a “banana back.” This does not feel good and is not safe to hold very long. Instead of both feet on the wall extend one leg straight up towards the sky so it is wonderfully aligned with the rest of the pose. The foot that is resting on the wall slides down a little so the thigh of that leg is perfectly aligned with the pose. It is there for balance and when you are ready to play with the balance all on your own, all you have to do is extend the knee.
When upside down it is important to basically be in Mountain Pose, Tadasana, but upside down. Here are some alignment tips once you are fully upside down:
- Press down into the hands and forearms firmly. 2/3 of your body weight should be in the arms. 1/3 or less in the head.
- Shoulders down away from the ears so there is lots of space for the neck.
- Crown of the head on the floor so the neck can be aligned with the rest of the spine, keeping it safe.
- Abdomen engaged to take out any back bend that naturally wants to happen but is unsafe for the alignment. Belly lock or Uddiyana Bandha helps immensely.
- The spine and pelvis are neutral. Again, no backbend please. Notice the pelvis. Is it tilting forward, essentially disengaging the lower abs and adding to the back bend? The tailbone reaching up towards the heels is another way of looking at this.
- Root lock, Mula Bandha, at the pelvic floor helps to support the proper alignment in the pelvis, abdomen and lower back.
- Engaging the legs toward each other and up towards the sky gives purpose to the legs as they float overhead.
- Reach up through the feet.
- Smile and Breathe!!!
Getting yourself upside down is a big deal. Please be smart in how you practice this pose and do not go to far to fast. Cherish your body and where it is today. You do not have to look like the perfect Instagram headstand or cover of a magazine when you are moving into this pose.
Let me know if you have questions and how your practice is going. Share a picture too!
Want to catch the whole series? Check out our other blog posts for headstand.