Q: I am unable to get up into a Headstand without the assistance of my teacher. Any recommendations on how to kick up on my own and without a wall?
—Susan, Washington, DC
Tias Little's reply:
If you are fearful about coming into Headstand without your teacher, I advise starting at a wall. Use the wall to stabilize your pose and build confidence in the inversion. Over time you may remove your legs from the wall, one at a time, to learn to balance. But don't be in a hurry to free balance because you will risk compressing the vertebrae in your neck.
Entering any inversion requires strength from the abdomen both as you move into the pose and to stabilize you while you're in the pose. When you come into Headstand by yourself, you won't actually "kick up," you will draw your legs over your head by drawing in and up on the navel center, thus engaging the abdominal muscles.
Practice poses that give you greater abdominal tone, like Navasana (Boat Pose). If you can't straighten your legs, then keep the knees slightly bent. Hold for 10 to 20 breaths! Another way to gain abdominal strength is to lie on your back with your legs extended up into the air, your pelvis on the floor and your heels directly over your hips. As you exhale, draw the navel into the spine and lift the hips off the floor. Your legs should move straight up toward the ceiling as you roll the hips up. Inhale to release. Do this for 2 to 3 minutes.
I also encourage you to hone the strength and tone in your legs. This will give you the power to get up and to remain stable in the pose without compressing your neck. Practice standing poses that bring energy into your legs. I find Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon Pose) to be especially beneficial because it requires strength and balance along the inner seam of the leg.
By toning the legs and abdomen, you will gradually gain the stability to bring the lower half of your body over the upper half. I do not put people up into Headstand unless they have developed this foundation, which gives them the spring and control to get themselves up.
Tias Little brings a wonderful play of metaphor and imagination to his yoga teaching. He is trained in the Iyengar and Ashtanga Vinyasa systems and his perspective clearly reflects the Buddha's teachings. He is a licensed massage therapist and has studied extensively in cranial-sacral therapy and Rolfing. Tias earned a Masters in Eastern Philosophy from St. John's College.