12.10.2010

Asana of the Week: Salamba Sirsasana

This week's asana is Salamba Sirsasana (Tripod Headstand).  This variation of the classic headstand requires more upper body strength than Sirsasana, particularly of the triceps and rectus abdominis, in order to maintain stability and balance.

Tripod Headstand strengthens the biceps, triceps, shoulders, pectorals, glutes, thighs, and muscles of the core, both front and back.  The potential health benefits of this pose are the same as most other fully inverted poses, such as a temporary reduction in blood pressure, relief of digestive cramps, and healthy drainage of the lymph system.  Energetically, this pose stimulates the crown chakra (Sahasrara chakra), the center of highest consciousness located at the top of the head.

As a beginner, practice this pose by kneeling on your mat and planting the hands shoulder-width apart in front of you.  Lean forward and place your hairline on the mat 6-8 inches beyond and midway between the hands, then walk the knees in as you roll forward along the midline of the skull until the crown of your head is on the floor.  You may need to experiment with the placement of the head to find your "sweet spot," as head shapes tend to vary widely from person to person and the apex of the skull doesn't work as a balancing point for everyone.  Personally, I prefer to balance on a point slightly forward of the crown.

Once you have found your sweet spot, straighten the legs and walk the feet in so that the hips move forward over the shoulders.  Ensure that the hands and elbows are no more than shoulder-width apart, forearms and upper arms parallel.  Ground into the first finger and thumb of each hand, hug the elbows toward one another to correctly position the scapulae on the back and press the shoulders away from the ears. Then bend the knees into the chest to lift both feet simultaneously.  If you can remain here comfortably with the knees bent for several breaths, try extending both legs up.  Once up, use the hands to steady your balance as the asymmetries in the body are revealed.  Suck the belly in, squeeze the inner thighs together, and engage the buttocks as you balance to create stability in the body.

As you advance in your practice of Tripod Headstand, numerous possibilities will be made available to you in the incorporation of this pose into your practice.  From Prasarita Padottanasana (Wide-Leg Forward Bend), one may enter Tripod Headstand by placing the head on the floor and extending the legs out into an inverted splits and then up.  Advanced practitioners may also enter Tripod Headstand from Bakasana (Crane Pose) by gently lowing the crown of the head to the floor and lifting up.  Then, from Tripod Headstand, one may reverse the motion and bring the knees to the upper arms to press back up to Bakasana; this challenging vinyasa is great for building upper body strength and serves as effective preparation for more advanced arm balancing sequences found in Ashtanga and Iyengar yoga which flow through Salamba Sirsasana as a home base.

Another vinyasa for adventurous yogis to try from Salamba Sirsasana is the drop to Chaturanga.  I love this transition because it's dynamic and fun, and it allows me to practice Salamba Sirsasana at practically any juncture without disrupting the flow of my practice.  Just remember to keep the core strong, flex the toes on the way down and soften the elbows when you land.

Salamba Sirsasana Sequence
  1. Virabhadrasana I (Warrior 1)
  2. Virabhadrasana II (Warrior 2)
  3. Trikonasana (Triangle Pose) 
  4. Prasarita Padottanasana (Wide-Leg Forward Bend)
  5. Vinyasa through Virabhadrasana II; Repeat 1-4 on left side.
  6. Salamba Sirsasana (Tripod Headstand) 
  7. Bakasana (Crane Pose) 
  8. Salamba Sirsasana (Tripod Headstand)
  9. Prasarita Padottanasana w/ Shoulder Opener (Wide-Leg Forward Fold) - Interlace fingers behind your back and stretch your hands toward the floor.
  10. Vinyasa through Virabhadrasana II
  11. Repeat steps 1-10 on the opposite side.

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