“Regular and precise practice of Sirsasana develops the body, disciplines the mind and widens the horizons of the spirit. One becomes balanced and self-reliant in pain and pleasure, loss and gain, shame and fame and defeat and victory.” BKS Iyengar, Light on Yoga
For yogis just beginning to explore a balancing inversion practice, Salamba Sirsasana (Supported Headstand, 4* on the scale of difficulty) can be intimidating. The idea of standing on your head in the middle of a room may seem scary. Mainly, these feelings about Headstand arise from a very understandable emotion: fear – specifically, fear of falling.
The first step to establishing a solid Headstand practice is to attempt the asana against a wall or at the corner of a wall. Many people can find strength and confidence in Salamba Sirsasana when practice against the grounding surface of the wall. But, how can you melt your fears of Salamba Sirsasana when you begin exploring the pose in the middle of the room?
Iyengar says, “The best way to overcome fear is to face with equanimity the situation of which one is afraid. Then one gets the correct perspective, and one is not frightened any more. To topple over while learning the head stand is not as terrible as we imagine.” The fear of falling in Salamba Sirsasana is closely related to the fear of injury. But, as Iyengar tell us, falling isn’t always so bad. Sure, falling isn’t enjoyable and may injure your pride for a moment, but with thoughtful practice, it need not injure your body.
Falling in Salamba Sirsasana is a natural part of the learning process of the pose. The key is to learn how to fall safely. As Iyengar explains, in order to fall gently out of Salamba Sirsasana, “one should remember to loosen the interlocked fingers, relax, go limp and flex the knees. Then one will just roll over and smile.” This instruction isn’t always so easy to practice! When we begin to fall out of Sirsasana, often our first reaction is fear and tension coupled with desperate attempts to regain balance or break the fall. But, ultimately, as Iyengar says, the best way to fall is to just let go.
As with so many of the yoga poses, letting go isn’t just about softening your limbs – it’s also about softening your heart and your mind. In fact, the physical, emotional and mental aspects of letting go are so interconnected that it’s often hard to separate them on your yoga mat. When you release your grip on the mind, your body and your heart soften. When you release tension throughout your body, your mind and heart open to new space.
Draw upon the interconnectedness of these dynamics to ease your fall in Salamba Sirsasana. When you feel yourself waivering, as soon as your mind begins to take over or your neck begins to tense, make a choice to let go. Let go of everything – your grip, your pride, your fear – and fall. Maybe the trip down to the mat will be your most instructive practice in equanimity.
What have you learned from falling – physically, emotionally, or mentally?