Sunday, June 12, 2005

Head Balance Preparation

I remember when I was a kid seeing a picture in a National Geographic magazine of a woman walking up the side of a steep mountain with perfectly vertical posture. On top of her head was a ring. Balancing on top of the ring was the engine block for a huge deisel generator that she was carrying back to her remote village.

It was clear from the photo that she was conversing with others on a narrow path and moving with ease. No struggle.


Not exactly a deisel engine, but more than a few cases of Coke. Posted by Hello

I told my students in class yesterday about this as we prepared for sirsasana, headstand.

I still marvel at it as I think about it. It convinces me that the human spine is an incredibly dynamic and stable structure, capable of much more than we give it credit for under ordinary life circumstances.

Before we practiced headstand yesterday, I asked each of my students to coil up one of the yoga straps we had in the room and rest it on his or her head. They looked pretty funny, actually, like people pill-box hats on.

It doesn't need to be a heavy engine block. When you begin to feel even a slight amount of weight on the top of your head, your spine starts to line itself up under the weight. The neck muscles release and one feels space between the vertebrae begin to grow. Most impoartantly, I feel a "gap" between my very top neck vetebra and the bottom surface of my skull.


Here's an x-ray showing how the skull rests on the top vertebra of the neck, the atlas. Posted by Hello

That gap is important.

I've heard this maxim about sirsasana:
"When I am in headstand, I bear 100% of my weight on my head, and 0% of my weight in my neck."
Read that again to be sure you've got it.

It's only possible if there is space between the skull and neck vertebrae.

Most people I meet carry their heads out in front of their bodies. Their necks are rarely vertical when viewed from the side. The neck muscles are required to do tremendous amounts of work to keep the head up in this position.


The image on the left shows how some people carry their heads out in front of their torsos, Posted by Hello

It's surprising to most folks to learn how much gripping and holding on they do with their neck muscles. Nearly all of my students can very quickly feel muscles release and neck lengthen simply by placing a light object on the top of the head and slightly pushing up into that weight.


The thing you balance on your head does not have to be heavy at all. Posted by Hello

I recommend that you not practice headstand until you can feel this feeling. When you can feel the neck line up and the gap between the top vertebra (atlas) and skull grow, then you'll be able to feel it when neck is compressing, too.

When you first learn headstand you've got to really press your forearms into the floor. When you push with your forearms, your arms and shoulders can bear more weight. That gives you the time you'll need to master bearing weight on your head without compressing the neck vertebrae.

So when you do feel that compressed feeling in the neck, you have two choices: 1) press harder with your forearms so your neck can lengthen again, or 2) come out of the pose and try again tomorrow.

If you don't practice headstand, find an experienced teacher and learn from her or him. Don't try to get it from this Daily Yoga Tip message.

But whether you practice headstand or not, you can benefit today, right now, from expriencing a little bit of weight on the top of your head. A bag of dry beans from your kitchen cabinet will do nicely.

Don't just read about it. Get up. Experience it. Experience yoga!

Kevin Perry
www.ExperienceYoga.org

p.s., This message is not medical advice. Please seek medical advice and diagnosis from a licensed health care professional.

Copyright 2005. All rights reserved, Mo Yoga LLC.

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