Sirsasana or King Pose is such a fun pose to learn, but can also be a slow and rigorous process to get to. It takes dedication and time to safely prep for this asana. Once you feel your feet up in the air and you nail that first real headstand after many trials – it feels really magical. It opens something inside you, a strange adrenaline rushes through your senses that pushes you even further in what your body can do. It is the ultimate mind clearer – you won’t be thinking about anything else other than your body and how you feel while standing upside down on your head.
There are three main components to headstand: strength, balance, and the elimination of fear. Many practitioners lack the upper body strength to properly hold themselves in headstand without placing too much weight on the head, resulting in possible injury to the cervical spine as well as the muscles in the neck and shoulders (ouch – please avoid at all costs!!!).
After warming up your body with a quick practice, these 3 introductory poses will help your body prepare to be upside down! Remember – it is always advisable to attend a yoga class to get some guided help when attempting Sirsasana for the first time.
1. Dolphin Pose (Makarasana)
Come to a tabletop position and stack your shoulders over your wrists. Lift the hands and set the elbows down where the hands had been. Bring the hands forward and interlace your fingers. Keep the elbows under your shoulders and press down through the forearms.
Tuck your toes under and lift your hips up like you would in Downward Dog. Be sure to keep your head off the floor, and the gaze back toward the knees. Relax your neck. Not only does this pose help strengthen you for your headstand, it also helps prepare the body for inverting.
Hold for 30 seconds, up to a minute.
Start in Downward Dog, roll forward all the way into your high plank, bring your shoulders an inch or two past your wrists. Press the mat away, lengthening through the shoulders and the neck as you engage the entirety of your hands (including fingertips!) to lessen the pressure on the wrists.
Rotate the upper arms inward, bringing the elbow creases to face one another. This is a great opportunity to roll back and forth from Downward Dog into plank and back again several times, warming up your shoulder girdle muscles and your core. These are the two main muscle groups to concentrate on in preparation for shoulder stand.
From here, move to Dolphin Plank. Bring your forearms down onto the mat, keeping a straight, strong line with your body.
You can keep your palms face-down on the mat in a direct line with your elbows, or you can lace your hands together in front of you. In either case, keep your elbows shoulder-distance apart. Draw your core in towards your spine to support your lower back, trying not to sag through the lower half of the body.
In this pose, you can again try rolling forward onto the balls of your toes, making minute shifts forward and backward to challenge your shoulders, all while still pushing the mat away by extending through your shoulder joints.
3. One-legged Headstand against the wall
Interlacing your fingers on the mat in front of you, bring the crown of your head to the floor with no pressure on the crown itself. Simply make very light contact with the floor and cradle the back of your skull with your interlaced fingers.
Keeping length and strength in the neck, engage the forearms and shoulders—these two muscle groups are carrying all of your body weight. If a friend happened upon you in this pose, they would be able to easily slip their credit card between your head and the floor. Only when you feel that you can support most if your weight with your upper body, you should be able to easily lift one foot off the mat without shifting too much more weight into the shoulders.
Lift one foot up as far as you can, testing out what kind of core strength will be required to lift both feet up off the ground. Switch legs back and forth until you are comfortable lifting one leg off the mat while not compromising your head and neck safety.
It took me years of practice before feeling that I could safely pull away from the wall and overcome the fear of getting upside down. The key to achieve the King of yoga asanas is persistence and commitment to working on the prep poses to properly build the foundations for getting into a safe headstand. Always ask your yoga teacher for advice if unsure!