The most well known asana must be the headstand pose - sirshasana. Even those people who have no contact with yogic aims and practices have heard of this asana. They have the prevalent concept of a yogi in a loincloth standing on his head for many hours everyday, with his bed of nails beside him on which to relax afterwards. This concept usually comes from the favourite cartoon portrayal of the yogi in this position. Recently, in fact, we saw a cartoon in which a most unlikely looking man was standing on his head while studying a book. When his wife asked him what he was doing, the man replied: "I have heard that the headstand improves memory, so I'm studying for my exams in this position." In one of our ashrams overseas the milkman places the milk bottles upside down on the doorstep every morning. He explained to the resident swami that he did it after having seen a cartoon about a milkman who did this when he delivered milk to a man who practised yoga. So sirshasana is inseparably associated with yoga.
Though there are a lot of exaggerations connected with sirshasana it is nevertheless a wonderful asana. It can give many benefits if it is done correctly. If it is done incorrectly, or by the wrong people, it can cause more harm than good. It is sometimes called the king or the best of all asanas. This is a slight over-estimation for all asanas have their place. Sirshasana alone is not sufficient to give perfect health. Although it will help very much it has to be supplemented by other asanas that have specific influences on other parts of the body. It is a combination of asanas and daily practise that brings overall good health; it is not one asana no matter how good it may be.
We intend to describe all aspects of sirshasana in two parts1, which is necessary for two reasons: firstly, sirshasana and all associated details will require a lengthy description; secondly, it is an asana which should be gradually developed and mastered. All asanas should be slowly developed, but this is especially true of sirshasana. If you try to master sirshasana too quickly, then tbere is the likelihood of a fall from the final pose and injury to the body. Also the body must be gradually accustomed to the extra burden of prolonged durations in the inverted position; failure to do this could lead to harmful effects on the bodily system. We are therefore presenting sirshasana in two parts, which means that you, the practitioner, will be more likely to spend the necessary time preparing your body for the final pose by practising and perfecting the initial stages given in this topic. There will be less chance of anyone vaulting or catapulting themselves into the final position like an acrobat and falling flat on his back.
SIRSHASANA (HEADSTAND POSE) - PART 1
The Sanskrit word sirsha means 'head'. Therefore, this asana can be translated as the 'headstand pose'.
Strange though it may seem, sirshasana is not mentioned or described in any of the well-known yoga scriptures. Considering the benefits that it gives, this seems at first a little surprising. But more than likely the asana was passed on from guru to disciple byword of mouth and personal tuition. In this way, there was less likelihood of sirshasana being practised incorrectly and thereby causing harm. It is only in recent years that sirshasana has been fully explained in books and become widely popular with large numbers of people.
Possibly the following quotation from the Gherand Samhita describes sirshasana under a different name: "The solar region is located in the navel and the lunar region is located at the root of the palate. Nectar drops downwards from the lunar region to the solar region and is absorbed; so do men die. Hold the navel upwards and the lunar region downwards. This is called vipareeta karani mudra, secret of the tantras. The head should be placed on the ground together with the arms. Point the legs upwards, keeping the head firmly on the ground. This is vipareeta karani mudra according to the yogis." (verses 3:28, 29, 30)
There is a similar quotation in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, There is in fact a well-known mudra called vipareeta karani mudra, which is an important part of kriya yoga2. But far more is implied in the practice than given in the above quotation. The above description is so vague that it could actually apply to and fit sirshasana, sarvangasana3, and any other inverted asanas, as well as the practice of vipareeta karani mudra as we know and understand it. It is possible that sirshasana was known by a different name and that it, as well as other inverted asanas, were collectively known by the name of vipareeta karani mudra, sirshasana being a modern name. We don't however, intend to discuss this point further, for it is only supposition and certainly not very important. The main thing is the practise of sirshasana and the benefits that it gives.
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