The connection to the earth is felt through the feet when standing upright. Hanging upside down in Sirsasana inverts the foundation to be felt on the head, but only if the head is able to rest and connect to something for support. When free hanging without support under the head - full relaxation cannot occur because there is no earth quality. Earth quality is stability and stillness.
For a student who is new to hanging, free hanging is important to ensure that the spine can fully extend and become as straight and unrestricted as possible. Only once a student has reached a certain level of awareness and there are no serious issues in the neck or spine, can they be taught how to use head support. If the instruction is too premature, it will only fill a student’s head with too much information, over complicate things and potentially do more damage than good. A student may push the head down and squash the neck, which is the complete opposite intention of the pose. The art of resting the head with support is therefore only taught on the Intensive Yoga Courses or Therapy Yoga Courses.
The place where to rest the head is very specific, and for each person it is different, it depends on the shape of the head. But generally, it is on the fontanel, which is the soft area of a baby when it is first born, that eventually hardens. That spot is on the centre of the head, the centre of the body. Not the back nor the front of the head because that will create tension and discomfort in the neck. If the head is extremely irregular in shape then use the highest point of the head as the foundation for the head support.
After hanging, for some time, the spine and the trunk slowly become marginally longer as the force of gravity pulls on the body downwards. The height under the head therefore needs to be adjusted when the pressure becomes too much, by simply reducing the height of the support that the head is resting. It is important to listen very attentively to the body while self practicing and not get distracted by external wishes or desires, keep the practice pure. Don’t be driven by goals of strength or flexibly or trying to free balance on your head, it will just create more issues or tensions in the neck. In this technique we don’t teach Headstand without the hanging belt, because if it is not done one hundred percent correctly, serious damage can happen to the neck and spine.
The hands are interlaced behind the head with the little fingers extending. By extending the little fingers away from the head, automatically the bottom part of the wrist touches the support and the shoulders go into correct alignment. The support for the head can be a number of different things, depending on what you have available at the time. Blankets, cushions, sheets or towels can be used, ideally something quite soft. The amount of pressure felt on top of the head is as light as when you touch the head of a baby, it’s subtle enough so relaxation is obtainable, but not too much that discomfort or compression occurs.
The pressure of the hanging belt is more intense when the muscles in the legs are tensed up or not relaxed. Once in the pose, let go completely and stay quiet. The student needs to accept the new sensations and not become reactive. Once the set up is correct the only responsibility on the student is to relax, stay for as long as possible and experience total surrender.
“Be quiet, go within.”
Yoga Master Teacher Sharat Arora
December 2015, Arambol, North Goa, India