Intuitive Alignment: Sirsasana
The instructions below assume that your student already has a strong, well-aligned foundation in Salamba Sirsasana I. She should be able to:
With her head, shoulders, and arms in place, you can teach her the three elements of front-to-back alignment in Sirsasana:
Neutralize pelvic tilt: Your student can neutralize her pelvic tilt in Sirsasana the same way she does in Tadasana (Mountain Pose). Last month's column, Intuitive Alignment: Tadasana Hips describes in detail how to teach her to do this. In short, she can learn to feel where her front hip bones (anterior superior iliac spines, or ASISs) and pubic plate (pubic symphysis) are, and place them on the same vertical plane (for an anatomical illustration, click here). You'll need to teach her to do this in Tadasana before she tries it in Sirsasana, because part of the learning process requires her to place her fingers on her hip bones, then on her lower back, and she can't do this while standing on her head.
Here's how to proceed. First, follow the instructions in the Tadasana Hips column to help your student neutralize her pelvic tilt. While still in Tadasana, have her run her hand up and down her lower back (lumbar spine) to sense the shape of her normal lumbar curve. Then, with her hand still in place at mid-lumbar, have her deliberately tilt her pelvis forward (top rim forward, pubic area back) and backward (vice-versa), so she puts first too much, then too little arch in her lower back, and finally returns to neutral. Next, have her do the same thing without her hand on her back so she gets an intuitive, internal sense of what her back feels like when she has too much, too little, and just the right amount of lumbar curve.
Now have your student practice Headstand, and instruct her to try to find the same neutral pelvis and normal curve. Here is an important point: Tell her that in order to keep her lumbar from arching too much in Headstand, she will probably have to put a little more effort into pressing her sitting bones toward her heels (tilting her pubic symphysis forward and her ASISs backward) than she did in Tadasana. That's because in Sirsasana, gravity tends to make the sitting bones drop toward the floor, increasing the lumbar curve. Tell your student that she can maintain her neutral pelvic alignment by gently contracting the muscles where her thighs join her sitting bones in back (the upper hamstrings and part of the gluteus maximus). Caution her not to overdo this, though, because it can flatten her lumbar too much. Also, instruct her to rotate her thighbones inward as she contracts these muscles in order to keep her thighs, knees, and feet pointing straight ahead or slightly inward (without this instruction, they would probably rotate outward).
One way to teach your student to rotate her thighs slightly inward in Headstand is to have her touch the sides of her feet together at the base of her big toes (the medial side of her distal first metatarsal bones) while keeping her heels about an inch apart. While doing this, she should also push the inner edge of each foot up, away from the floor, and pull the outer edge down, toward the floor.
Neutralize flexion/extension of the hip joints: The actions and sensations your student needs to learn to place her hip joints in the neutral position between flexion and extension in Sirsasana are described in detail in last month's Tadasana Hips column, under the heading "Neutralize front-to-back placement of the pelvis." She simply needs to balance the sensation on her front hip creases (front groins) halfway between "too stretched" (legs too far back, hips extended) and "too soft" (legs too far forward, hips flexed). Teach her this in Tadasana, then have her immediately practice it in Headstand.
There are a few special points to note, though. First, the Tadasana instructions call for your student to shift her pelvis "fore and aft," decreasing the range of movement until she finds the point where the stretch on her front hip creases feels halfway between stretched and soft. In Sirsasana, as your student shifts her hips she should simultaneously shift her legs in the opposite direction, so her feet move forward as her hips move backward, and vice-versa. Second, in Headstand, as in Tadasana, your student's pelvic tilt has to be neutral for the adjustment to work properly, because the degree of tilt of her pelvis will affect the amount of stretch in her hip creases. Finally, the Tadasana column describes a second way for your student to monitor her front-to-back hip placement, namely, balancing the sensation of firmness vs. softness just below her sitting bones (at the hamstring origins); however, this does not work as well in Sirsasana because of the increased muscle tension needed in this area to maintain the pelvic tilt.
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