Q: I need some tips for transitioning from different Sirsasana (Headstand) variations into Chaturanga Dandasana (Four-Limbed Staff Pose). Can you help me out?—Moritz Ulrich, Berlin
Read Dharma Mittra's response:
There are three steps to the process. First, if you're in a Headstand variation in which your legs are not symmetrical and vertical, bring them straight up overhead and together. Dropping to Chaturanga from other leg positions is possible, but I don't recommend it; it can be dangerous for your neck and should be attempted only if you have an advanced practice.
Next comes the big challenge: If your arms aren't in Sirsasana II position (Tripod Headstand, right) —palms flat on the floor, fingers pointing toward your head; hands shoulder-width apart and placed so your forearms are vertical and your upper arms horizontal—you have to move them into that configuration.
To do this, bring all your weight onto the top of your head for a second so you can quickly reposition your arms. This is a vulnerable moment for your neck, so don't do this until you've been practicing Headstand regularly for several months and can hold it for at least five minutes with good alignment: body in a straight line from the crown of your head up through your heels, and neck long and uncompressed.
Once you're in Tripod Headstand, press firmly into your palms and draw your elbows away from you. Your elbows will tend to splay out to the sides. To avoid this, squeeze them toward each other so they remain exactly shoulder-width apart.
From here, the movement into Chaturanga may seem intimidating, but it's really quite easy. Keeping your whole body straight and your arms strong, let your feet start to fall toward the floor. You're trying to touch down into Chaturanga with your forearms still vertical (perpendicular to the floor) and your upper arms still horizontal, so as your weight starts to come off your head, press even more strongly into your hands and swing your chest through the space between your arms. The more you can do this, the more lightly your feet will land.
Founder and director of the Dharma Yoga Center in N.Y.C., Dharma Mittra has spent 45 years disseminating the wisdom of yoga. Known as a teacher's teacher, he is also renowned worldwide as the creator of the Master Yoga Chart of 908 Postures, which inspired Yoga Journal's coffee-table book of asana photographs, Yoga (Hugh Lauter Levin Associates Inc., 2002).