Sunday, 11 September 2011

Headstand Pose or Salamba Sirsasana

It all started with a backache. I was working in an office environment and sitting down most of the day. Soon I started to slouch at my desk, my back began to ache and my posture bend forward. Someone at a dinner party suggested I try yoga. In those days yoga was a newish thing, not as commercialised and trendy as it has become today. My local fitness centre in central London offered just one class a week and I decided to give it a try.
Not everything went smoothly at first. I am sensitive to smells and the burning incense dotted round the room was nauseating. I was also scolded by the teacher for turning up 5 minutes late and asked never to attend her class again unless I was on time. As if this wasn't enough, I also did not understand yogic exercises, the twists, bends and stretches, which looked so alien to a typical westerner that I was. But the movements I managed to do correctly made a huge difference to my back. Thereafter, I started to seek out yoga classes and teachers who I would connect with. It took three long years of searching and many frustrated hours of sweating in wrong classes before I found a yoga centre I was happy with.
Sitting here now, several years later with a laptop on my stomach, my back has never felt better. I have moved on from my back, that doesn't  ache any more, to other things in yoga. I can stand on my head for several comfortable minutes and do the splits while upside down. It is not a party trick or something to show off, although some nincompoops always ask me to demonstrate it; most recently a couple of women from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which is perhaps the thing to do in the middle of peace negotiations between the Taliban and the NATO forces or during the Israel-Palestine-USA ménage à trois, but not at a dinner table when the cheese course is being served.

Why, oh why upside down?
A headstand - or in fact any inversion - is one of the most important poses in yoga. There are two reasons for it; both are equally important.
On the physical level an inversion improves the circulation and lymph flow. Something good happens in the body when you turn it upside down and let the gravity work in the opposite direction a few minutes. The positive effect is immediate. Tension in the shoulders and upper back releases, heaviness in the legs disappears, the face becomes rosy and nourished with a renewed blood flow and the digestive organs get cleansed and detoxed. 
The second effect takes place in our energy level. By regularly inverting the body stagnant energy becomes unblocked. Many illnesses, also those in the head, start slowly with an inadequate and restricted energy flow in the body. A headstand is an invaluable tool to maintain and improve mental health.
There is also an element of joy when doing headstands and inversions. The childlike - not childish - pleasure of seeing the world from a different angle is an exhilarating experience for a grownup. Joy keeps bitterness and cynicism at bay, leaving emotional space for better feelings.  
The ancient yogis cleverly figured out that a headstand a day keeps the doctor away. I wholeheartedly agree with this simple wisdom.

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