Inversions test your mental and physical boundaries, making them a yogi's rite of a passage. Rina Jakubowicz offers four steps for approaching them fearlessly. Join her at Yoga Journal LIVE! San Francisco to learn these techniques in depth and more.
Everyone who starts yoga craves Headstand. Observing my students for over 13 years, I have deduced that it’s not really about getting into the Headstand but more about a rite of passage. Sirsasana is the first pose that really tests your mental and physical boundaries and challenges your weaknesses.
That testing starts with your willingness to fall. Of course most of us aren’t willing. We fear the fall and even build it up by imagining it to be much bigger (an abyss!) than it actually is. Secondly, there is the question of strength. Any weaknesses in the body becomes evident in this pose, which requires stability in everywhere. (How will you measure up?) Finally, Headstand is a big test of your trust in both yourself and your teacher. If you’re not there yet, use these four steps to free yourself from the fear holding you back.
4 Steps to Fearless Inversions
1. Start with a wall--without shame.
The first time you go upside down, I would recommend using a wall to feel what it’s like to have your legs above your head. It’s weird at first, but only because you’re not used to it. Make sure you are close enough to the wall to feel it behind you when you come up, but not so close that pushes you back down to the floor. Also, don’t let the wall become a crutch. Use it to feel the sensation of being upside down and then start building your strength and confidence away from it. This is where the true strength develops!
2. Learn how to fall.
Set yourself up for success by finding a place to learn how to fall—safely. If you live near a beach or sand, learn how to fall out of a Headstand or Handstand there. If you don’t live near a beach, pile a bunch of pillows, blankets, or gym mats behind you on a carpeted floor so you land on them. Make sure there’s plenty of cushioning to break your fall. Then find the falling technique that works best for you:
The first option is to just flip into a backbend with your feet landing on the floor behind your head in Urdhva Dhanurasana (Full Wheel Pose). You MUST have a flexible enough spine to do this so first test your Wheel Pose coming up from the floor and see how much of an arc you have. If your back is too flat and not able to arch deep enough right now then when you add momentum from the fall it won’t let you land feet first. Thus this option isn’t optimal for backs that aren’t too bendy. But the next one is great!
Tucking and Rolling
You can also fall out by tucking your head in and rolling out on your back. Make sure you are still using some upper body strength so that you land gracefully instead of landing with a flop. The key is not to tense up when you fall. Because our minds are riddled with fear, the first thing the body does is contract, which could cause an injury. Instead, consciously relax your muscles so that the impact isn’t hard.
Some people, out of a reflex, just hop out to the side when they see they are going to fall. I don’t recommend this option because it could be unsafe for your shoulder and unsafe for someone around you who might be in your fall-spot. This falling technique is also usually used because you haven’t found a fearless way to fall (either flipping or rolling)!
3. Build a stable foundation.
Whichever inversion you are working on, you will want to focus on stabilizing your foundation first. I recommend starting with either a Tripod Headstand or a traditional Headstand over Shoulderstand because if done correctly a Headstand will help you develop your core better than Shoulderstand will. Then with that strength, you will easily be able to support yourself in a Shoulderstand without collapsing. Resist your ego’s need to lift your legs up above your head right away and instead first focus on building the necessary strength in your shoulders and core. Most of the time students who are in a rush to come up into inversions aren’t using muscles but are hanging on their joints and collapsing, which could cause all sorts of pains and compensations that will create future problems in your practice and body. Therefore, mastering your foundation and building stability in your core must come first.
4. Master each pose step by step.
Lastly, take time to learn the specific actions and steps necessary for each individual inversion and apply them accordingly. Learning these techniques will remove all doubt and give you the confidence you need to combat fear once and for all!