How to get into headstand

Headstand can be learned in one session.

Here are the steps:

  1. Proper preparation is everything. Take care that your elbows are not too far away from each other. My arms are almost parallel. This is very important.

  2. Walk with your feet to your body. It’s not necessary to have straight legs. Finally the back should be parallel to the wall.. (Picture #1)

  3. Bend one leg and bring it close to the body. Only one foot is the floor. The weight should be on the arms and not on that foot. (Picture #2)

  4. Jump a tiny bit to bring both leg in the same position. The closer you walked the feet to the body the less you have to jump. It’s a tiny dynamic movement. (picture #3)

  5. There are three possibilities to balance: The thumbs behind the head can press against the head. Breathe evenly. Engage the bandhas. Especially the last point gives a lot of stability. When no feet is on the floor the pose is mastered. Now only the legs must move upwards. This can be done very slowly. But that’s it.

People with high blood pressure should avoid this asana.

Sirsasana is an inversion and a balancing asana. Mastering this pose gives a lot of self-confidence.

For those who are interested in beauty: Headstand is a good face lift. :)

Headstand has a lot of positive effects on the body:

  • It strengthens the core muscles

  • Blood circulation improves

  • It improves digestion and brain function

I think it makes sense to learn first shoulder stand, then headstand, then forearm stand and then handstand.

Challenges can be to try variations and to hold this asana longer. I learned from people who held the pose for one hour. For me 1 to 5 minutes are enough. In order to experience the above mentioned positive effects this pose must be held longer than 5 breaths. One should aim for 25 breaths minimum.

Headstand

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People who don’t practice yoga usually combine yoga with lotus pose (padmasana) and headstand (sirsasana).

In Ashtanga yoga a headstand is part of the closing sequence. At the end of second series seven different forms of sirsasana are exercised.

Headstand can be learned in one session.

  • In the movie ‘The breathing God’ one can watch how B.K.S. Iyengar teaches a man headstand. This man had never done yoga before, it was the film maker. He was able to get into headstand very quickly. Within 10 minutes or less this man got into headstand alone and he could hold it. Iyengar only told him what to do. There were no hands on adjustments. The situation was challenging as the student had a lot of viewers.

  • I learned it in one session, too. Years ago I practiced with the Sivananda people. Sirsasana is the first asana out of the twelve basic ones in their system. They know how to teach it.

Usually yoga beginners have such a huge respect and even fear to get into headstand. It’s not necessary. It’s very unlikely that one falls out of this pose. I fell out perhaps twice within decades. Nothing happened. The folded hands behind the head prevent that one falls backwards. Nevertheless I always want to have space enough in front of me in case I fall. If one falls against a wall one might injure oneself.

The main two mistakes:

  1. Most people who struggle with this pose have the elbows too far away from each other. My arms are almost parallel on the floor. The wrist press into the floor.

  2. Never ever go to a wall!!!! Don’t do it. Fear will become worse. I’ve seen it so often.

There are many possibilities to get into the pose. It’s easier when the legs are bent, when moving into this asana. I’m glad that I can get into the pose with straight legs again, yet this is a bit more challenging.

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  1. step: Learn to get into a basic handstand.

  2. step: Hold this asana longer, 5 minutes could be a doable goal. Self-confidence will grow.

  3. step: Exercise variations.

In order to check if the body is parallel to the wall one must take a picture. The yoga poses feel differently than they look like. A picture tells the truth.

I plan to go to a Sivananda yoga class again, after so many years. I mean they taught me how to get into headstand. Perhaps they can teach me pincha mayurasana, too.

Useful yoga props: timer and wheel

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Ashtanga yoga practitioners start the yoga week on Sundays with second series. Back bending is a focus.

How to practice smarter than during the last decade is often my question.

The timer:

One of the answers is that it makes sense to hold the difficult asanas longer than 5 breaths. Especially if an asanas seems difficult, progress might come faster when this asana is held longer. Repetitions are useful, too. It’s not always possible to get from 5 breaths to 1 minute. I breaths 15 times (inhaling and exhaling equals one breath) within a minute when I do nothing. I surely need more breaths when I’m in a challenging asana. It’s easier to wait for the peep of the timer than to count breaths. It’s distracting. To focus on the sound of the breath and to count the breaths are two different challenges.

It’s impossible to hold every asana of one of the Ashtanga yoga series for 1 minute. It’s too time-consuming and perhaps also not good for the body. My plan is to hold one back bending asana 1 minute, one forward bending asana for 1 minute, one twist for one minute. It’s a modest start, but a start.

This sounds easy. One minute is not long, but when in urdhva dhanurasana one minute can feel like an eternity. Today I left the pose before the peep of my timer. Two seconds only and I would have accomplished my goal.

There will come a moment when the discomfort seems to be unbearable. Then the mental task begins. Mantras might help to stay. ‘I can’ is a good mantra. Only 5 more breaths. Again one must learn to understand the messages of the body. Sometimes the pain is a message to get out of the pose if one doesn’t want to risk an injury. The goal is to relax more and more when performing an asana.

I guess it’s what runners told me: There comes a moment runners want to stop, yet when they get over this point, running happens almost from alone.

Another possibility to handle the discomfort is to move a tiny bit out of the pose till it becomes OK to stay.

Sometimes I want to get out of a pose, because I’m bored. This is often the case when I do headstand. Today I used the timer for this pose, too. One minute was doable and also enough. I would have left the pose earlier. The effect wouldn’t have been the same.

The wheel:

To start back bending on a wheel helps to relax. One can focus either on stretching the front of the hips or the upper back. It’s not just hanging over the wheel. I usually engage my legs. It prepares the body for deeper back bending asanas. Setting a timer can be useful, too. When in an asana I lose the feeling for time. The timer gives an orientation. The older a yogini is the longer it might take till the body gives up resistance. When the body feels safe, stretching can happen.

Timer and wheel are my helpers.

The plan for tomorrow:

I set a timer for 90 minutes. That’s how long I practice every day.

I set a timer for one minute when practicing paschimottanasana (forward fold), marichyasana C (twist), urdhva dhanurasana (back bending) and headstand (inversion).

Breaks make lazy.

Every yoga practice motivates me to practice again. Soon.

Patience

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Whenever an asana works on stretching body parts it’s good advice to have patience. It takes time to stretch. Being overambitious causes injuries. Injuries are setbacks. Sometimes indicating an asana might be enough. It’s better to establish again a daily yoga routine than to force the body into a position that is too demanding. Especially after a break one must take it easy. It is disappointing to lose asanas. As in life there are ups and downs.

Knowing when to give 90 % and when not is something we learn over time. I wrote 90 % because we cannot give every day 100 %. I even read that sports people get to better results when they take it easy.

To hold an asana longer than only 5 breaths will help to advance relatively fast.

What is worth doing, is worth doing daily.

To practice daily is so much better, than to have long and intensive practices once in a while. This might sound banal, but it’s true.

Deepening the understanding of an asana

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The above pose is called paschimottanasana and it’s the first pose of the middle part of Ashtanga yoga. There are four variations of this asana, with each asana one moves a bit deeper into the pose. When it’s possible to bind the hands in front of the feet, one can omit the other 3 variations.

Here are my questions in order to deepen the understanding of any asanas:

  1. What sort of asana is it? Paschimottanasana is a forward bending asana. In this case it’s easy, but sometimes there are asanas which are a combination of forward bending and balancing i.e.. This asana stretches the back of the legs. To stretch the body takes usually longer than to learn an asana that requires the correct technique like sirsasana (headstand).

  2. Are there easier variations? Paschimottanasana works mainly on the hip joint and on stretching the back of the legs. Knowing this one can come up with easier variations with the same goals.

  3. Are there more challenging variations? These days it’s easy to google the variations. The student must decide which variation he/she likes to add to the practice.

  4. Can I move the body 90 degree? Often an asana has the same form but is performed with a rotation of 90 degree. Instead of sitting, one can lie on the back with the same body position. This can make a huge difference. One can also stand and again the asana will feel totally differently.

  5. What is the counter asana? Very often it’s upward facing dog in primary series of Ashtanga yoga. Yet for paschimottanasana the next asana works as a counter pose: It’s purvottanasana. A counter pose moves the body in the other direction, but not that intensively.

  6. How to get into the asana and how to get out of the asana? In Ashtanga yoga this is called ‘vinyasa’. It’s the dynamic part. I prefer to work on the asanas than on the vinyasas. It’s surely good advice to give these two parts the same attention.

Picture 1 shows an easier variation, picture 2 shows a variation with a rotation of 180 degree, picture 3 shows a vinyasa exercise and picture 4 shows a counter pose.

No asana is a stand alone position. Around a single asanas are vinyasas and other asanas. There are counter poses and a lot of variations. Experimenting helps to make your yoga practice to your own practice.

Make your own experiences. Create your own stories. Enjoy.

Slightly overstretched

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I’m slightly overstretched today. Perhaps also not so slightly, but overstretched. The back of my legs complain when I bow forward with straight legs. These injuries are inevitable if the breaks between practices are too long. My experience is that a break of more than three days or even a week or longer is too long. The mind still knows what was possible the last time when I practiced, yet the body adjusted already to another life style and got stiff.

During a practice it’s almost impossible to realize if one goes too far. The pain comes the next day or even later. It’s the same with sore muscles.

When I practiced daily I’ve been never overstretched. A daily practice is the solution if one want so avoid getting overstretched.

The next question is how to avoid breaks. My experience is that yoga must come first. Sometimes I have so much to do that I start working on these daily tasks first. Duties first, I think. But every task lasts longer than estimated. I accomplish a lot on those days when I postpone yoga. But often yoga is not only postponed but cancelled on those days when I switch my priorities. After lunch my stomach is too full for a practice and in the evening I’m often too tired.

What is more important than my health, my well-being? Nothing. This is why yoga must come first. The plan is to finish my practice before lunch time.

Of course exceptions exist: Serious injuries like my SI injury might require to stop practicing for a while. Sometimes other activities must get priority. Yoginis are flexible, aren’t they? To discuss every day what comes first is surely not a good idea. Just doing it without discussion is a trick to start practicing.

I’m looking forward to my practice today. Slowly I’ll bow forward. My body will tell me it’s limits of today.

Setting a timer

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These days I set an end to my practice. Instead of planning to practice primary or second series or half primary and second series asanas, I set a timer. Not the contents, but the time limits my practice. This is somehow easier. Within 90 minutes one can do a lot. Quality over quantity! Might be that I extend the length of my practices again one day again, but right now it seems to be a perfect length. Today my mobile phone wrong when I had finished the back bending asanas. Extra exercises and my slow speed cause that 90 minutes is too short for a full second Ashtanga series. Who cares?

I observe what is possible on a given day. No matter if I felt stiff or weak or flexible and strong, I’m more than happy that I can do this practice.

When discomfort is felt, it’s a sigh that one touched limits. It gives the opportunity to go a tiny step further. It gives the opportunity to breathe and to relax to feel good at the rim of the possibility. Pain tolerance changes every day like everything else, too.

To practice 90 minutes without interruption tells me that my concentration is very good. It’s the illness of the time that people cannot focus anymore. The mobile phones distract most people. I even think that it has the potential to weaken our brain.

In yoga we care for our bodies, but we also take care of our mind. Being able to focus is a skill of the mind. It’s worth to exercise it.

A timer is a useful tool.

  1. One can limit the practice without getting nervous about the time. Sometimes half an hour might be enough. The timer helps to allow me to focus within that time frame.

  2. It’s a good idea to hold asanas longer than 5 breaths. To get an impulse from the outside is more effective than to tell oneself when to stop. Also here a timer can make sense. It’s easier to set a timer for 1 minute than to count 15 breaths.

  3. One can also use a timer to focus i.e. 20 minutes on back bending within the 90 minutes.

I have to timer: my mobile phone and another one.

Getting an impulse from outside helps to free the mind from additional tasks. It intensifies the focus.

What else?

It’s carnival here, it’s the last day and it’s really funny to go downtown to see all the masks. We won’t have much time for carnival today. It’s also not really my circus. We don’t drink, we don’t masquerade, it is as if we just landed from another star. I had a highlight already: My yoga practice. Being a yogi is a life style, I experience this again and again.