The headstand, or shirshasana, is sometimes called "the King of Asanas." It has been practiced for thousands and thousands of years. In the Padma Purana, a sacred Hindu text written more than 1,000 years ago, the sage Kavya performs the headstand to gain a supernatural power. For the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, the classic manual on hatha yoga, and the Gheranda Samhita, another classic yoga manual, the headstand is a life-giving jewel. As they explain, the moon is under the sun in the headstand - the moon being one's head and the sun being in one's belly - so the process of aging does not happen. In other words, one does not grow old. Many other sacred texts also mention shirshasana.
If you suffer from high blood pressure or eye conditions such as glaucoma or a detached retina, or if you have neck or head pain that stems from an accident, you would be wise to avoid the pose. The headstand and other inverted poses should also be avoided during menstruation.
The headstand is known to relieve varicose veins, to improve lung capacity, to slow the heartbeat, and to strengthen arms and the shoulder girdle. But it is also a position that improves memory and facilitates concentration. I have noticed that my meditation is much better when I practice shirshasana. In January 2010, before I started to work at Pure Yoga, I used to practice the headstand for one hour every day. Each morning I was meditating for at least two hours, and sometimes more, without moving at all. Several times, I reached the blissful state of "samata," or calm abiding, a peaceful state of mind that places you beyond worries for many days.
Although I can now stand for an hour or more on my head, I've got to confess that capability has only come through plenty of practice. When I first did the pose in a yoga class, I was not able to hold it for more than a few seconds. My teacher, André van Lysebeth, suggested in his first book 'Yoga Self-Taught' that you start holding the pose for one minute, and then add one more minute every day until you eventually reach 10 minutes. And that's exactly what I did. If you think you have reached your limits, you should practice for a few weeks at that maximum before attempting to stay any longer.
Another thing I must point out is that the headstand is not as easy for women as it is for men. Because the neck of a woman is normally thinner than the neck of a man, women cannot hold the position for the same amount of time. In Yogasanas, Swami Sivananda talks about some of his friends who were practicing the headstand for two or three hours every day. I have a couple of friends myself who can hold the position for more than two hours. But I don't know of a woman who has been able to hold the pose for half that amount of time.
Several of my friends and students - male and female - like to hold the pose for about ten minutes, or maybe a little bit less. That is still a very healthy practice that allows you to reap the benefits of shirshasana. My advice is to try to practice that way three or four times per week. Since the neck is compressed and the lower back tensed in that pose, you have to lengthen the back of the neck and to stretch the lower back muscles after each and every headstand. To lengthen the neck, you can practice the shoulderstand (sarvangasana) or the plow (halasana). And to stretch the lower back muscles you can practice the child pose (balasana) and stay in a seated forward bend (pashchimottanasana, janushirshasana…) for two or three minutes.
In the headstand position, whether you are practicing meditation, pranayama or simply trying to keep your balance, you should also be aware of the pose's proper alignment. You need to keep coming back to it. The proper alignment is to keep the body in one vertical line, without leaning to the right or left. The back and neck both have a tendency to collapse, while the knees tend to bend. To return to the proper alignment, contract your belly and your ribs, lengthen the back of your neck by pressing the top of your head - not your forehead - on the mat, and keep your legs straight.
To keep the pose longer, it is interesting to practice some headstand variations. You can change the position of the arms or the legs, and even both at the same time. From time to time, to relax the neck, you can also hold the pincha-mayurasana or even the scorpion. After the variation, come back to the headstand, and stay as long as you can. It is important to lengthen the breath in that pose. The steadier and deeper your breathing, the easier the position is to hold.
A good headstand provides a feeling of inner peace and bliss. The body seems light, and the mind seems to float beyond the world.
>> Visit Steeve's bio