Salamba Shirshasana 1 (Head Stand 1)

Head Stand 1
Level: Intermediate

Alamba = a prop or support. Sa = with or accompanied by. Shirsha = the head.

Shirshasana (Head Stand) is known as is the king of asanas. This powerful pose should always be followed at some point in a practice with either Salamba Sarvangasana (Shoulder Stand), Halasana (Plough Pose), Setu Bandha (Bridge Pose) or Viparita Karani (Upside Down Pose) held for the same amount of time as your Shirshasana to counter its heating and stimulating effects, lest over a period of time you over-stimulate the sympathetic nervous system, leading to stress and fatigue. It is important also when practicing Shirshasana not to keep going up and down, as this can dehydrate the body. Go up, stay up, come down lightly and stay down. Even though the effects are so strong, this pose is considered a cornerstone even in a restorative practice.

Shirshasana is usually best followed immediately by a pose that will release the neck, for example: Supta Virasana (Reclined Hero Pose), Jathara Parivartanasana (Belly Turning Pose), Bharadwajasana (Bharadwaja’s Pose).

There will always be a preference for one way of interlocking the fingers over the other. It is important to practice both sides, no matter how awkward the other crossing may feel. Ideally, with enough practice, both interlockings may become equally comfortable as the nervous system becomes balanced. You might make a habit of changing the interlock on alternate days, or divide your time in the pose in two, coming down and changing the interlock at the half-way mark.

Organizing the Pose

  1. Fold a mat up and place a folded blanket on top for padding.
  2. If balance is an issue, set yourself up against the wall. If you are using the wall, it is important to be close to it so that you are not pushing your hips out into the middle of the room and sitting in the lower back when you bring your heels to the wall.
  3. Interlock the fingers and place the forearms on the floor, tucking the bottom little finger under for comfort. Bring the elbows directly underneath the shoulders.
  4. Take the crown of the head to the floor and bring it into the hands. Take care not to be too much toward the hairline, nor too much towards the back of the head: too much towards the hairline and the throat will get compressed, too much towards the back of the head and the back of the neck will get overly compressed.
  5. Press the wrists down, lift the shoulders and bring the knees off the floor.
  6. Walk the feet in towards the head, keeping the wrist bones grounded and the shoulders lifted.
  7. Either bring the knees into the chest and take the legs up or stretch the legs out into Urdhva Dandasana (Upward Staff Pose). End up with the legs vertical.
  8. Hold this position for about a minute to begin with. As you become more proficient, you may build your time up, anywhere up to ten minutes, according to your capacity, increasing carefully over a period of months.
  9. Exhale, come down in the same manner as you went up and touch the feet lightly to the ground. Coming down heavily puts a lot of stress on the neck and should be avoided.
  10. Rest in Child’s Pose for several moments before coming up.

Practice Points

  • Keep the wrists stacked up and ground down evenly through the forearms.
  • Stretch down through the triceps into the elbow while stretching up through the biceps.
  • Stretch evenly through the armpits.
  • Broaden the collarbones and balance the weight evenly between them.
  • Widen the neck, throat and upper back.
  • Stretch up strongly through the sides of the waist and legs.
  • Soften and widen the buttocks.
  • Soften and widen the chest, neck and throat.