Classic Studies On Yoga

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shirashasana

Introduction

Shirshasana is popularly known as Head Stand. It is one of the advanced level yoga postures. Yogis perform this posture as a part of Kundalini activation. Sri Krishnamacharya terms this asana as the King of Asanas. Among all yoga poses, Head Stand and Shoulder Stand earn the top places.

In this article, let us discuss the meaning, steps, precautions, and benefits of Head Stand. Apart from the benefits, this article discusses the drawbacks of practicing also.

Shirshasana Meaning

The word śīrṣa means head and āsana is a posture. Literally, it is the yoga posture of the head. In English, we call it Head Stand or Topsy Turvy Pose. The head supports the whole body, hence this name. The term Sirshasana also has the meaning of a primary yoga pose.

This posture is also known as Kaphaliasana (Kaphalasana) or Brahmasana. However, Sri Krishnamacharya says each of the techniques for these poses slightly varies from one another.

Shirshasana Information

Pose NameShirshasana
Sanskritशीर्षासन
IASTśīrṣāsana
English NameHead Stand
LevelAdvanced
OriginAncient Indian
TypeInverted Poses
Chakra ActivationSahasrara

Shirshasana History

Classical yoga texts did not mention this posture by this name. We could not find any documentation mentioning the term Sirshasana. However, Hatha Yoga Pradipika describes this techinique in Mudra section and calls it Viparita Karani Mudra. Hence, it is clear that the posture was in practice in the medieval period, of course with a different name.

Sritattvanidhi, a treatise on iconography and iconometry of South Indian divine figures, which is attributed to Sri Krishnaraja Wodeyar III (1794-1868) uses the name Sirshasana.

Head Stand Procedure

Shirshasana Precautions and Contraindications

Despite its manifold benefits, it will harm the practitioner, if one does not adhere to precautionary measures. Before attempting the practice, one should understand the risks associated with it.

The practice of this posture involves a high risk of being fallen and getting injured. Hence one should take extra care while learning this practice. Most of the time, people fall against an object and get injuries. To avoid this, one should select a place free from objects that could be hit. Moreover, beginners may choose a place near a corner of a wall where there is a lesser possibility of being fallen.

Ladies who are pregnant or who are undergoing menstruation cycle should not practice this pose. People having conditions like Higher Blood Pressure, Stroke, Cardiac Issues, Neck injuries should also avoid this.

Head Stand should be practiced in the morning only. Like other yoga postures, one should not perform this posture after a meal.

Those who are obese and having weight over 190 lbs or 85 kgs should bring their weight down before attempting this posture.

People having conditions like high blood pressure, hematoma, ocular disorders, Meniere’s syndrome, ear infections, cervical Spondylitis, and other neck issues should avoid this posture. Patients who are on drugs like anticoagulants and antiplatelets should also avoid this posture. It is also contraindicated for people susceptible to strokes or arterial dissection.

Head Stand and Eye Health

Sirsasana causes the causes for raised intraocular pressure, decompression retinopathy, glaucomatous visual field defects, central retinal vein occlusion, the progression of glaucoma, optic neuropathy, and conjunctival varix thrombosis. It could be an important risk factor for Central Retinal Vein Occlusion especially in predisposed patients

Central Retinal Vein Occlusion Following Sirsasana (Headstand Posture)

Hence myopic patients should not attempt this posture and other inverted postures. Transient elevation in intraocular pressure during Head Stand may lead to progressive glaucomatous optic neuropathy, especially in susceptible patients with congenital glaucoma.

Important Note

Only young people should learn and practice this posture. If they are practicing the pose regularly from a young age, they can continue the practice even during old age. But people who belong to the middle and old age should not attempt to learn and practice this posture. It may produce more harm than benefits.

Head Stand Preparatory Poses

Practicing Sarvangasana will help master Head Stand. The following poses also help to master the Head Stand.

  • Viparita Karani
  • Halasana
  • Pincha Mayurasana
  • Pranamasana

Shirshasana Steps

Stage 1

Sit in Vajrasana. Lean forward and place the elbows and lower arms with interlocked fingers on the floor in front of the knees. Ensure that the gap between the two elbows approximately equal to the length of your lower arm and palm. It virtually forms a triangle of two elbows and palms.

Stage 2

Place the head on the floor in such a way that your interlocked fingers wrap around the head. Raise the knees and buttocks so that your buttocks, trunk, and head should be in a vertical line. The upper legs are closer to the body. See that your knees are bent suitably. Now the body weight is on the lower arms and head.

Stage 3

Slowly raise the lower legs up ensuring the balance and weight is on the lower arms and head. Raising the legs should not disturb the hand, head, and trunk balance. Raise the lower legs up to a level that your lower legs are in a verticle line or slightly tilted towards the buttocks. Wait for a little in that position to see that your breathing is normal.

Alternatively, some people raise one leg to the position first and then continue with the second leg. However, I always recommend raising both legs together.

Stage 4

Now raise the knees to the level vertically in line with hips, trunk, and head. Note that you should not stretch the folded knees. It should remain folded during this movement. In other words, your heels are closer to the buttocks.

Stage 5

Then straighten the lower legs up. Now the whole body is in a verticle position. Ensure that your feet, hips, torso, and head are in one line. Breath normally. Those who have mastery over this posture can close their eyes. But beginners should not close the eyes. Instead, they should fix their eyesight on an object before them. This the final position.

Pose Release

To release the position, first, bend the knees and bring down the lower legs towards the buttocks. Then bend the hips and bring down the folded knees towards the stomach. Straighten the lower legs unbending the knees and place the feet on the floor. Bring down the buttocks and come back to Vajrasana.

Sirshasana Duration

There were yogis who practiced this asana for more than three hours at one stretch. Swami Sivananda mentioned in his book Yogasanas that Pandit Ragunath Sastri of Badrinarayan who used to practice this pose for two to three hours. There was a yogi at Varanasi who entered into Samadhi in this Asana.

In summer, Sri Sivananda warns, one should not practice this pose for a long time. In winter, one can practice it for a longer time subject to his capability.

A beginner should start with thirty seconds at the start and he may increase the duration gradually to the desired extent.

Head Stand Follow Up Poses

Swami Satyananda of Bihar School of Yoga recommends a pose sequence of Sirashasna, Tadasana, and Shavasana.

Yoga Guru T. Krishnamacharya recommends a pose sequence of Sirashasana, Sarvangasana, Matsyasana, and Shavasana.

Swami Sivananda advocates a sequence of Sirashasana and Sarvangasana before meditation. Now, most of the yoga teachers go for the sequence of Head Stand and Corpse Pose.

One can follow up with any one of the sequences mentioned above.

Shirshasana Benefits

Improves Varicose Veins

Varicose Veins is a condition that involves enlargement and gnarling of the Veins usually of legs. In this disorder, there is a reflex flow of blood through the valves of legs, hence instability in the circulation of blood.

When a person with varicose vein practices Shirshasana, two things happen. First thing is, the veins are emptied of stagnant blood. Second, when the person comes back to normal posture, fresh blood is supplied to the veins. This helps to prevent clotting which is common in varicose vein patients.

Improves Heart Helath

The change in brachial blood pressure indicates a better left ventricular filling and cardiac output. The inverted posture increases the blood flow to the upper parts of the body.

In Head Stand, the heart still has to pump to lower parts of the legs. This should be done against gravity. Obviously, a person who has been practicing Head Stand from younger age normally has a stronger heart than others. But it cannot be so for a person with cardiac ailments.

Improves Brain Health

You often come across some yoga websites that claim Head Stand increases blood flow to the brain. But it is a myth. There is an autoregulating mechanism in the brain that controls the cerebral blood flow. So there could not be an increased influx of blood to the brain because of the inverted posture.

Though total blood flow to the brain is always constant, the inverted posture directs increased blood flow to the activated areas of the brain. So there are chances for opening up of closed vessels that may improve memory, optimal concentration, and improved mental tasks. Comparatively, it is not possible in case of not practicing Head Stand.

Moreover, blood flow to the Pituitary and hypothalamus areas. It is believed that this improves their functions and the total endocrine system.

Other Benefits

  • Shirshasana improves indigestion.
  • It helps in conditions like premature ejaculation and feeble erection.
  • After the practice of Shirshasana, Pranayama and Meditation will be easier, because it improves the focus and concentration.
  • The practice of Head Stand activates Crown Center. Hence it is one of the techniques for Kundalini Activation.
  • It helps to maintein celibacy.

Frequently Asked Questions

I am aged more than 40, Can I learn and practice Shirsasana?

No. It is not advisable. There are plenty of other yoga poses. You can learn and practice them to get the same benefits.

Can I Practice Shirshasana in the Evening?

No. It should be practiced only in the morning. The practice results in temporary sympathetic activation. This may even disturb your sleep rhythm. Practice in the morning is highly recommended.

Can Heart Patients Perform Head Stand?

A study on the Effect of Yogasana practice on systolic time interval shows that there are no significant changes noted in systolic time intervals and therefore suggests that the practice of these Yogasanas (Head Stand and Shoulder Stand) produce changes in cardiac function, which are well within the normal functioning limits of the heart.

Though the practice of Head Stand won’t make a significant impact on the functions of the heart, the complexity of heart ailments varies from patient to patient. Hence it is advisable to consult your doctor before practice.

Again it is contraindicated for Hypertensive patients. This may further complicate cardiac issues.

Can Shirshasana Prevent Hair Fall and Bald Head?

No. It is a myth. Improved blood supply to the scalp cannot prevent hair fall or bald head. Though blood circulation to hair follicles is good for hair health, that alone could not prevent hair loss.

Can Head Stand Trigger a Stroke?

No. Cerebral blood flow is controlled by a mechanism that restricts the heavy influx of blood supply. Hence, Head Stand could not trigger a stroke. Yet it may harm a weak vessel in some other area. Persons susceptible to stroke should not take risks.