Oftentimes called the king of asanas (i.e. yoga postures), sirsasana, better known as the headstand has been taught to countless practitioners in various yoga lineages. Despite its classical significance, there are few postures whose place in practice is more debatable. When I mention “place in practice,” I’m not merely highlighting the placement of the pose within one’s regular sequence of yoga postures. Indeed, yogis of the Sivananda lineage practice headstands before all other postures while Ashtangis like me practice headstand last. Yet more puzzling, a growing number of yoga teachers influenced by Yoga International’s recommendations refuse to teach sirsasana because they feel that the injury risk outweighs the benefits.
There are a myriad of differing opinions concerning the health benefits and risks associated with headstands. I have included a few links for you to read and watch if you’d like to explore this topic in greater detail. From my own perspective, I find sirsasana to be one of the most enjoyable postures of my daily routine. I am also convinced that headstand is among the great tools for helping each of us overcome our ingrained fear of falling. Furthermore, when it comes to injuries related to headstand, including falls, I have never personally encountered a single person who has injured themselves while preforming a headstand. I credit the truth of my statement to good safety principles with I uphold in my own led classes. When headstand is approached mindfully I believe that the benefits far exceed the risks.
There are a few basic rules of thumb I implement which help make sirsasana both safe and fun. For starters, I will not teach headstands to a complete newcomer; I’d like to witness his or her practice first. I also tend to ask students if they have glaucoma, head/neck troubles, or any other medical condition which they wish to share with me. If I feel that the student is safe to begin, I will look to ensure that the flooring which one plants his or her crown and forearms upon be adequately cushioned. I will oftentimes help the practitioner find a safe location adjacent to a wall if they need help finding their balance point. I also like reminding students that I myself can essentially transform into a three-dimensional wall, or sorts, if summoned to do so. All in all, I continually remind myself to present headstands safely and lightheartedly, so new students and experienced practitioners alike may discover the joys of sirsasana for themselves.