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Five-Minute Yoga Challenge: half a headstand with 3 blocks and a wall

The Five-Minute Yoga Challenge started as a response to two of Gretchen Rubin’s Rules for Adulthood:What you do EVERY DAY matters more than what you do ONCE IN A WHILE,” and “By doing a little bit each day, you can get a lot accomplished.” That, in a nutshell, is the philosophy of My Five Minute Yoga Practice. After all, no matter how busy you might be, there are five minutes somewhere in your day that you can devote to doing just one pose or preparation. The rules: it doesn’t matter if you don’t make all seven days. Three and above is a definite win, five and above is a triumph. Of course, if you have time, you can practice other poses. But if five minutes a day is all you have, choose a Five-Minute Yoga Challenge that works for you, do it, and see what happens.

The blocks at the wall support your shoulders in this headstand preparation

The blocks at the wall support your shoulders in this headstand preparation

No pose energizes, focuses thought and breaks us out of dull, listless moods as effectively as Sirsasana (headstand).

But headstand isn’t a pose for beginners.

So this week’s five-minute yoga challenge is do do five minute’s in a headstand preparation every day.

If you’re an advanced practitioner, by all means work towards five minutes in the full pose. But know that the safest way to increase your time in headstand is to add no more than 30 seconds a week to your holding.

If you’re a long way from five minutes, try this preparation first, then do your full pose.

And remember that in Iyengar yoga, shoulderstand always follows headstand, either directly, or later in the practice.

Not ready for the full pose?

Here’s a safe, easy way to start working with it, without having to take your feet off the floor.  It’s accessible to anyone who has a good grasp of downward facing dog pose, and it can clear the mind and raise the spirits almost as effectively as headstand itself.

If you have a helper to place the blocks, it’s a piece of cake. But with a little bit of practice, you can do it easily on your own. Here’s how:

Place a yoga mat with the narrow end at the wall.
If you have a second mat, fold it so you have three layers of thickness below your head. If you don’t have a second mat, use a firm blanket or a folded bath towel under your forearms.

Kneel, and with your hands hold three chip-foam blocks against the wall.
Bring your elbows to the floor and press your shoulders into the blocks. Make sure that the bottom edge of the blocks rests against your shoulders, and that the bones of your neck are below the blocks.
Clasp your hands, with your elbows shoulder-width apart. Let your knuckles touch the wall.
Bring the crown of your head to the floor.

Tuck your toes under and push up as though you were going into dog pose.
Take your feet out wide, to the edges of the mat, and walk them in toward your head.
Press your forearms strongly into the floor, especially the centres of the forearms, and press your shoulders into the blocks.
If you push down hard enough, your head will  lift off the floor. Relax your neck and let the weight of your head stretch your spine.
Check that you are looking out evenly, neither down to the floor, nor up toward the ceiling.
When you’ve held for as long as you like – it’s a surprisingly restful position – bend your knees and come down.
You can hold the chip foam blocks as you come down, or just let them tumble harmlessly to the floor. Rest in child’s pose, with your head down, for four long breaths.

Benefits: Headstand is one of the most powerful poses in yoga, bringing mental clarity and health to those who practice it.
But for beginners, full headstand can be daunting, and without the strength to stay in alignment, harmful.
This preparation will give you an energy burst from being inverted, accompanied by some of the calm and focused mental clarity gained from headstand practice.

Sequence: You can do this preparation whenever you feel low-energy or befuddled, and have the wall, the props and the privacy. Start your five minutes with a minute in downward dog pose, which will help your body adjust to the inversion. Then take your blocks to the wall.

Because you will not be bringing your body weight into your head, you don’t need to follow this preparation with a shoulderstand – although there’s certainly no harm in doing so if you have the time.

Ouch: Do not do this pose if  you have high blood pressure that is not under control, or glaucoma, or a detached retina, or are menstruating. Tight hamstrings? Keep your sitting bones high, but generously bend your knees.

Sansrkit corner: Say sheer-SHAH-sanna. Sirsa means head. Asana means pose.

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  • Becky August 16, 2010, 1:48 pm

    Hi there. I just found your blog for the first time. I really enjoyed the article and look forward to reading more. I am enrolled in an Iyengar teacher training program and just started my own blog to help me process the thoughts and emotions that come up on my journey. Thanks for being an inspiration!