For those of you who are still learning the pose, take heart. It felt impossible to me for a long time, but now I feel solid and comfortable in the pose - anywhere. I demo it in my classes and carry on a non-stop monologue while I'm upside down. I have conversations with my friends in headstand, I listen to CBC radio in headstand. If I could figure out a way to read a book in headstand, I'd probably do it.
I love the pose - but it took me a while to get there.
My first headstand came at a yoga retreat in 2000. I had been doing home yoga practice for years, with an occasional beginners Iyengar class but I never seemed to explore the inversions, or I managed to avoid them.
At the retreat, I looked around slack-jaw at all of these people standing on their heads, legs floating serenly. Someone at the retreat offered to teach me (brave woman!). It required two people and a very solid wall to get me into the pose and I lasted mere seconds. I hated it.
I didn't revisit the pose again until 2003 when I started yoga teacher training. Learning Sirsasana became an urgent project; I didn't want to be the only one in YTT who couldn't do a headstand! I taught myself using the wall and near the wall I stayed. I only started moving away from the wall after I began Ashtanga practice in 2007.
Within a year, I was able to come into the pose kicking up one leg at a time (or lifting my very bent knees). But I could do it in the middle of the room! The key to this breakthrough was learning to fall. I did this at the park and forced myself to fall out of the pose every conceivable way.
It took another year to learn the straight-leg entry. Only in the last two years has the pose started to feel completely comfortable to me. These days, I'm pretty happy holding Sirsasana for up to 10 minutes if I'm not already tuckered out from a long practice.
As I was reading through my blog archives trying to piece together this chronology, I stumbled across a post praising David Swenson's tips for Sirsasana A & B in his book. His comments on Sirsasana B were the Rosetta Stone that helped me come up with straight legs. Coming up with straight legs was the key that helped me feel truly confident doing the pose away from the wall. When kicking up, I had no control, but lifting up allowed me to find my centre and keep it.
Here's the snippet that triggered my lightbulb moment:
"In order to lift the feet from the floor, it will be necessary to transfer your weight behind you. This will actually create a momentary unbalancing. This unbalancing is what will draw the feet upward. The trick is to bring the hips back to the centre line as the feet rise."
See? Gravity is your friend! When you shift your hips slightly past your shoulders, the legs become light and coming up is easy (but then you need to shift the hips back). I discovered that if I moved slllloooowly and with care, I could regain my centre after the lift.
Today, as I was scanning Swenson's comments for Sirsasana A, I found a description of my precise problem in Pincha Mayurasana. For those of you who are curious about my alignment quirks in that pose, this sums it up nicely: "There is a tendency to push the ribs forward and collapse in the lower back..."
Swenson suggests recreating the pose while standing, keeping the ribs drawn in, the sit-bones dropped and the legs working. I might try this tomorrow.
(Angry Samurai doesn't like inversions either! Photo taken at our local history natural history museum)
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