Sirsasana, king of the asana!
Sirsasana and Sarvangasana (shoulderstand) have gotten a bad rap in the past few years. Teachers have become worried about placing pressure on the head and neck – and with good reason! The neck is not meant to bear the weight of the entire body, and certainly not when it’s crooked at a 90 degree angle (which is why you must always prop yourself in Sarvangasana! But that’s for another post).
Sirsasana is a doozy of a pose. Practiced correctly, it is both invigorating as well as calming. However, to protect your neck, you need to keep a few essential guidelines in mind.
Align Your Neck
Your neck should be in its natural, neutral alignment, that is, it needs a slight lordotic curve to be safe. Your neck is happiest when weight can be distributed evenly across the discs. Make sure that the spot where your head meets the floor is at the crown of the head, so you are neither tucking or overextending your neck. If you have a long neck, prop your arms up with folded blankets so you’re not crunching your neck (see video).
Use Your Arms
That said, don’t put weight on your head! Put the weight into your forearms and press them down like a crazy person. Your shoulder girdle should bear the weight of the pose, not your neck. Pay attention to the weight in your forearms, particularly when you’re coming in and out of the pose. You’ll usually get excited and distracted by the entrance and dismount. Move slowly enough so that you can pay attention and press your forearms firmly down.
Have Your Own Back
Recruit the power of your upper back to stabilize your shoulder girdle (see video). If you can’t get your upper back to stay in, then you’re not ready to take your weight up. Work on getting your upper back more into your body until you stabilize your shoulder girdle to create the necessary stability to support your body weight. It’s perfectly fine to stay in a dolphin headstand until you can walk the feet in without the back “falling out.” Yes, I know hamstrings can be an issue.
Use Those Legs!
Activate your legs. Don’t let them just hang there like dead weight, yo! Use your legs to pull your weight up. Squeeze your legs together and go up, up, up. And don’t be impatient to get your legs off the wall; the wall is a sacred friend and will help you find proper alignment.
Sirsasana is an elegant, quiet pose. Getting up into the pose may require patience and tenacity. If you become agitated or anxious while trying it out, then back out. Sirsasana is a pose of control rather than exuberance (handstand is a bit more exuberant). And your weight is on your neck. So no kicking up or wild movement. And in case I haven’t been clear, use a wall. You have enough to think about without worrying about doing a somersault! See this video for step by step instructions.
Let me know if you have questions by leaving a comment below. Happy inverting!