On the first day of the continuing students 5 day course we teach a very important position, hanging Sirsasana, also known as The King of all the poses. Doing regular Sirsasana on the floor can cause a lot of compression and tension in the neck area if it is not done correctly. In the world today, we have entered into the age of excess comfort. This age of comfort, has negatively influenced the shoulders to go forward and the spine and overall posture to be rounded or crooked. Having this kind of rounded posture, also known as ‘sofa pose’, and attempting to do head stand free balancing just don’t mix together well and does more damage than good. Therefore eliminate ‘Sirsasana’ on the floor and safely do it with the belt, suspended from the belt getting all the benefits of head stand and inverting without causing any harm. The hanging Sirsasana also allows a student to safely be upside down for a much longer period of time. “Inversions are the highway towards spiritual development and growth”.
There is an exact spot where the hanging belt is to be placed on the back. At the very bottom of the spine is the tailbone which is a knobby bone that goes inwards. Just above the knobble of the tailbone is a flat boney area – the sacrum – which is the start of the spine. On the upper part of the bone and the start of the knobbly part is where this belt has to be precisely placed. If the belt comes too far up and rests in the lumbar spine, i.e. lower back, this will cause discomfort and even problems. And if it’s too far down on the buttocks it won’t allow for the full elongation of the spine to occur and the student may slip out. So, the location of where to place the belt is important. Therefore, for the first few days on the continuing class the teacher and assistants will monitor and check the students to make sure they are finding the right spot.
If the belt when just hanging suspended is too high to get into, cushions can be placed on the floor to make entry more accessible, or the student can stand on tip toes. To secure the belt in the exact place, use the thumb and index finger in a ‘L’ shape and hold the belt on the sacrum and push the belt downwards. The hands are securing the belt in place just narrow of the width of the back of the hips. Start to lift the legs up and bring the body weight fully into the hanging belt, (like sitting in a swing). Once the body is in the belt and legs are up, check that the hips are parallel to the floor and that the pelvis is even. Spread the knees immediately out to make sure not to slip completely through and at the same time still holding the belt flat against the sacrum, allowing the body to hang.
The pose in itself is not dangerous, but the entry can be. Ensure to move the knees apart while coming up so as not to just fall out. In free standing headstand, there is a possibility of the spine becoming compressed which happens when there is too much pressure and weight on the head. While hanging from the belt, the spine is doing the opposite because it is becoming long and the force of gravity is allowing the whole spine to lengthen. In order to gain the maximum benefit while in the pose it is imperative to relax. The pose works best when all the facial and neck muscles are relaxed, and the head hangs directly at 90 degrees to the body, making sure the back of the neck is quiet and long. When totally relaxed, all the muscles in the spine can elongate to their full potential. The hands simply rest on the floor directly below the head and can be interlaced. Make sure that the hands are not too far forward or too far back, but exactly in line with the plumb line of the body. Therefore, the whole body is moving towards being straight and 90 degrees angle with gravity. The more relaxed a student can be, the deeper they can go inside and fully meditate.
At first there may be some new sensations through the body and maybe even some strong emotions, some of which may appear uncomfortable. The power of inverting and ‘turning the world on its head’ helps to conquer our fears and see things in a clear and new light. The students job is simply to relax, let go, observe and stay as still as possible.
Everybody has different body awareness so they will experience the pose completely differently. Keep the mind passive, nothing is active and don’t allow any tightening or active thinking to take place so that softness can come through on all levels. Stay in the first variation with the mounds of the toes connected and the feet in Baddha Konasana for as long as possible. After some time, the feet go to sleep which sends a different input to the brain. So you don’t come down, you change the leg position. The second variation is to spread the legs open, with the legs straight and the toes semi active. This alleviates the circulation around the hip area and allows blood flow back to the feet. And finally, after you can’t stay any more then you use a stick. The third variation is with the legs vertical and straight and a piece of bamboo or wood used between the belt and pelvic area to secure the body. The stick is placed just below the pubic bone, (gentlemen must move their genitals to the side or out of the way.) This third variation allows for complete letting go because the body is held fully between the stick and the belt, there is nothing left ‘to do’. In the third variation the body at first feels like it is sliding far down, but the buttocks will eventually encourage that you are secure. From the first to the third variation the body will shift down closer to the ground and the spine will lengthen as it starts to release. So make sure the height of the belt has enough room for any sort of lengthening to occur.
To come out of the pose, be mindful and slow because the legs may be completely numb. Use the hands to reach for the belt and pull the body up using the strength of the arms. Allow the belt to rest under the arm pits with the body still suspended by the belt, the knees bend and the body hanging at 90 degrees. A student may feel dizzy or light headed, so take enough time to climatize before moving away from the belt.
“Keep the eyes quiet!”
Himalayan Iyengar Yoga Centre
Yoga Master Teacher Sharat Arora
December 2015, Arambol, North Goa, India