Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Supported Headstand

If you've had any kind of back trauma and are therefore scared of falling down and getting permanent spine damage (I know, I'm so dramatic) then I'm not the only one for whom going into headstand has always felt like being pushed off the Empire State Building...until now.

In the past, I've always attended classes where the teacher, about 3/4 of the way through the class pretty much says, "Okay, stand on your head!" and I would cower into a corner or have to suddenly go to the bathroom.  If the teacher caught me, I would have him or her help me to go the wall, do a few preparation poses, then when they left, find a comfy child's pose.

Core work is definitely a must for this pose.  I've always been in pretty good shape but never really worked too specifically on the muscles in my core.  (Try "Boat" pose and "Warrior I" to practice core strengthening!)  I would try to go up into a 1/2 headstand, being coached all the way, core tight, then when my mind got in the way half way through the pose, all muscles would loosen, fear set in, and I would collapse.

The other thing that I never realized was important for this pose - and every single pose as you'll begin to see throughout my posts - is shoulders on the back. There are plenty of exercises that can help build up the muscles to keep your shoulders back there where they belong.  One of my favorite and simplest exercises is to fold over into uttanasana, grab onto your elbows, and make sure the elbows are essentially behind the head. You can even rise up to standing, and fold back down, all the while trying to keep your shoulders "on the back."  Just imagine a pencil is stuck in between your shoulder blades...and try to keep it there.

If you're ready to go up, first come down onto hands and knees, measure the width of your elbows on the ground by grabbing onto each elbow, then keeping them in place while you clasp your fingers in front of you.  Please remember to tuck that bottom pinky on the inside of your folded hands, so it's in line with your other pinky - you do NOT want to put pressure on this finger! Once you've engaged your core and feel comfortable enough with your shoulders aligned properly, it's time for dolphinIf this is all you can do for now, do this about 3 times, resting in child's pose for a few breaths after each attempt.

Once in dolphin, some people "flip up" into headstand. But again, if you're a scared-y cat like me, you might want to learn a safer and stronger way to go up without fear of flipping over.  (By the way, you should be doing this a few inches away from a wall - with no paintings or windows behind you - so you still have that crutch to fall back on if you need it). Lift one leg high into the air.  Lift it even if it's not immediately in alignment so you can feel how long you'll need to stretch it to the sky.

By spiraling your thighs inward and using core muslces by pulling the perineum (yea, I said it - now you'll never forget to do it!) up into your bell, slowly lift your other leg off the ground.  KEEP THE ENERGY OF INNER SPIRAL AT ALL TIMES. Keep the perineum pulling up. Keep the core engaged and keep sending the tailbone down. Keep the heals reaching up. Now.....enjoy :) (and don't use your upper lip and jaw like I'm doing in this picture - SMILE!)

In this picture I'm almost there.  Shoulders could be on the back a bit more, I should be "inner spiraling" more and feet should be flat, as if they were pushing against the ceiling.  But you can only do so much when the camera is on a timer.

I was told that students new to headstand should not stay in the pose longer than 5 minutes.  HA!  After about 10 seconds, I feel satisfied enough to come down. :)  To come out of the post, use the same controlled method you used when you went into it.  Use that core to slowly bring either one leg or both legs down to the ground.  Rest in child's pose.

Ahhhhhh.....give yourself a namaste!

Until next pose....