Salamba Sirsasana, or supported headstand, like all yoga inversion postures is a great way to find both energy and calm. By flipping your world upside-down, you’re allowing for increased blood drainage from your lower extremities, as well as your lymph nodes. When you come out of the posture and into child’s pose, you’re flushing your entire body with fresh, oxygenated blood. This is an incredibly active pose and works everything from the forearms and shoulders to the abs and back muscles to your thighs and even feet.
The key to this asana is to approach it without ego and with a sense of adventure. Inversions are often scary for people, but the only way you’ll get injured is if you don’t listen to your body. In the beginning, take it slow and use a wall. Having both the support and peace-of-mind that something is there to catch you if you fall is a great way to get comfortable and kickstart this element of your practice.
Now, let’s break it down step by step…
STEP 1: Set up your yoga mat, kneeling somewhere in the bottom half. In order to find the proper spot to place your head, take your wrist joint and place it on the tip of your nose, fingertips reaching up to the sky. Wherever your middle finger lands–somewhere between your hairline and the crown of your head–is where you’ll want to set your head down. Keep in mind that from an anatomical standpoint the closer to the crown of your head you base this asana, the more neutral your spine will remain.
STEP 2: Place your head down on the mat in front of you, using the spot you found in step 1. Lace your fingers together and cup your head. Your forearms will frame your head and neck on the floor, elbows at shoulder width. Press your inner wrists firmly into the floor.
STEP 3: Send your booty up and back, coming into down dog legs. From the side you should look like an inverted “V.” Fire up your thighs, actively lifting your kneecaps to engage your quadriceps. Walk your feet in towards your elbows, keeping your heels elevated. The closer your feet come to your elbows, the more your hips come over your shoulders; this will bring you into better alignment from the get-go, making it easier to stay solid once your legs rise up and overhead. Draw your shoulder blades in and down, flattening them against your upper back to keep your front torso lengthened.
STEP 4: Root down through your forearms, exhale and lift your feet away from the ground. There are two ways to do this: (1) by lifting one straightened leg to the sky, then powering your other leg up to meet with the first using core and glute strength, or (2) taking both feet up at the same time by bending your knees and hopping lightly off the floor (see above). I am demonstrating the second option because I find it to be a slightly easier place to start. If you chose the second option, engage your abs–drawing belly button into spine–and lift your legs straight up and overhead with control.
Either way you choose to go, avoid using momentum. If you aren’t quite ready to rise up using muscle strength (core power!), you can use a wall and add a little more kick into the process. Please heed my warning above and check your ego at the door before trying this asana.
STEP 5: Finally with your legs perpendicular to the floor, tuck your tailbone in and down. Lift up and out of your shoulders and neck by rotating your upper thighs inward, engaging your adductors and abductors. Your feet should be directly over your hips, which should be aligned over the crown of your head. Try to keep your weight evenly balanced on both forearms by continually tucking your tailbone, engaging your abs, and firing up every single muscle in your legs. It helps me to demi/Barbie-point my feet, sending energy through the balls of my big toes.
If you’re just getting started, aim to stay inverted for 10 seconds (2-3 deep breaths). You can gradually tack time onto this until you can comfortably hold the pose for 5 min. To come out of it, slowly bring your legs down the same way they went up with an exhalation. Be sure not to lose the lift in your shoulder blades.
When both feet touch the floor, sit back onto your knees, bring your chest forward onto your thighs, and rest in child’s pose. You deserve it!