Practical Magic Artwork
Season 2 - Episode 12

Flowing Toward Headstand

40 min - Practice


Kelly guides us in a practice where we play towards Sirsasana (Headstand) at the wall with support. Inspired by the goddess Parvati, we begin by warming up the shoulders, hips, and side body, before finding stability in a warrior sequence. After Headstand, we close with Impressing the Heart to rest in the effects of our effort.
What You'll Need: Mat, Wall, Block (3)


Read Full Transcript

Hi, I'm so glad you're here. For this practice, we will be working or playing in the direction of headstand, shishasana, and we'll be doing this in a supported and supportive way so that we can experience a little release even as we are working. So I'm glad you're here. We'll begin in vajrasana, or the thunderbolt pose, where we're sitting on the heels. And we'll be here for a bit, so you might like to bring a block or something like it between your feet.

And as you're setting up for vajrasana, let yourself really sit back into the sitting bones, which can feel slightly slumpy to start, but will climb out of there. So let yourself really sit back. Notice the state of the bottom of the bowl of the pelvis and just how you're holding yourself there. Invite the heart to bloom, and then we'll sort of temper that with an engagement right at the belly button, nothing aggressive, just like a millimeter's worth of movement there, like super-duper subtle. And so we're relaxing into the support that we're already receiving.

And at the same time, we're just remembering this beautiful length of your spine. There's no aggression required. There's nothing extra required. Notice if there are any places in your body where you feel yourself holding or gripping, and invite a sense of softening to those places. And on an inhalation, let's reach arms, hands, and fingers toward the sky.

And as you exhale, we'll bend at the elbows, cactus arms or goalpost arms. Inhale, reach arms, hands, and fingers toward the sky, and exhale, bend at the elbows. Let's do that one more time, noticing sort of the inner edges of the shoulder blades. And from here, we'll sort of soften a bit, soften the tops of the shoulders, the palms of the hands, the hinges of the elbows, the bottom of the bowl of the pelvis. And on an inhalation, we'll close this big book of the arms, and we'll rest the right elbow in the crook of the left arm.

And you can let the backs of the hands touch. Or if you could do this without too much extra effort, let the palms of the hands make contact in eagle arms. And to start, we'll invite the hands to move away from the face, and we'll invite the shoulders to move away from the ears. Start to lift the elbows away from the chest, and all of this is happening with lots of ease. We're not sort of trying to jam the body into any shapes that it doesn't want to go into.

We're just sort of feeling our way in, and we're giving ourselves a little massage here. If you notice that you're holding or gripping in the jaw or in the feet or in the pelvis, then with an exhalation, we'll release and pause for a moment. Notice what you feel, where you feel. And with an inhalation, reach arms, hands, and fingers toward the sky. And as you exhale, bend at the elbows again, and we'll soften the hands, soften the elbows, soften the shoulders.

As you inhale, draw the arms toward each other. Close the book. Rest the left elbow in the crook of the right arm. Maybe backs of the hands touch. Maybe palms make contact.

Let the hands move away from the face just a little bit, just a teeny tiny bit. Elbows settle. So there's a little sag there. Elbows then lift away from the chest. And if there's a part of your body that seems to be calling you in and saying, oh, I'm interesting, pay attention to me, like go there with all of your attention.

And on an exhalation, we'll release and again pause. And in time, we'll lift up away from the block if you have it. And we'll move toward table pose. Really take your time, feel your way into what feels stable right now in this moment. Something I'm really loving to do lately in Cat and Cow is to tuck and untuck the toes and to notice like, oh, what happens?

What engagements are happening as I tuck the toes under? Now at the pace of your own breath, we'll move through Cat and Cow, these super essential, super elemental shapes, and feel like truly free to try something new here. So as you inhale, let the heart sag between the shoulders. Let the tailbone point up, maybe gaze up. And as you breathe out, press the palms of the hands into the floor around the spine.

And we'll move like this at the pace of your own breath. Heart sagging, gazing up, exhaling, rounding. And something you might try here, something that's sort of fascinating to me is to see how close to the spine I can make these movements. That is like how invisible to the outside viewer can you make them and still feel them. So maybe for the next couple of breaths, try that.

And then let them get really big and swoopy and sort of cursive and wild. With your next inhalation, we'll come back to regular old fashioned table. Extend the right leg out toward the right, bring the palm, the palm, the sole of that foot to the floor, make good contact. And on an exhalation, we'll start to move the hips back. So your left hip is moving toward your left heel, fingers are reaching toward the top of the mat.

Let the forehead sag toward the floor, let the elbows sag toward the floor. Now where in your body are you feeling this? Go to that part or those parts with all of your attention. Show up and listen to what they're saying, like go to the center of the sensation. On an inhalation, let's pull the torso back toward this asymmetrical table shape.

And we'll walk the hands back toward the body a bit and come to stand on that left knee. Right leg is still extended out toward the right. We're firm in this left leg. So on an inhalation, we'll bring the arms out to T. And as you exhale, start to slide the upper body toward the right, releasing the right hand to the right leg above or below the knee, but not right on the knee. And we'll reach the left hand straight up toward this guy.

So there's a lengthening of the left side of the body here. Soft in the shoulders, soft in the jaw, soft in the skull. And on an exhalation, we'll let that left hand sort of sweep in front of the body, bring it next to the left knee, press the right foot into the floor, reach the right hand up overhead. Feel free to experiment here with the direction that your armpit is looking and the direction your right hip is looking. And on an exhalation, we'll climb back into regular old-fashioned table.

Feel free to shake it out just like that. And in time, we'll extend the left leg out toward the left, make good contact between the left foot and the floor, breathe into the length of your body. And as you exhale, start to move the hips straight back, right hip moving toward right heel, fingertips walking toward the top of the mat, forehead softening toward the earth, then soften the elbows, soften the back of the heart. And feel your way around in here, like let there be a little bit of movement as you're experimenting, as you're running these sort of tiny experiments, tiny experiments that increase our capacity for concentration or darana. And on an inhalation, we'll walk the fingertips forward on the floor and we'll pull the body back up to this sort of asymmetrical table shape.

Walk the hands toward the legs and then come to stand on that right leg, right knee. Find stability, reaching down into the floor with the knee and the foot. We'll inhale and sweep the arms out to T and as you exhale, start to slide the upper body toward the left, releasing the left hand to the left leg above or below the knee, reaching the right hand straight up. So we have all this beautiful length happening, reaching through the right side, softening into the shoulders, softening into the back of the body. And as you exhale, let the right arm sort of sweep in front of the body, carrying you over into the right hand on the floor, sort of same latitude as the right knee.

Press that hand into the floor. Press the left foot into the floor as you reach through the left arm, hand and fingers. Feel free to kind of like swim around in here. You're doing it right. You're totally doing it right.

I call this pose Martha Graham. Martha Graham would tell us that we're doing it right. And then in time, we'll kind of, you know, meander back toward regular old fashioned table. Find stability. Notice the hands.

Notice the quality of the contact that the hands are making with Earth. And as you exhale, tuck the toes under, move the hips toward the heels, and lift into downward facing dog, Adho Mukashvanasana. Move a little. Move a lot. You might run some tiny experiments here in the upper back, maybe bending the elbows, straightening the arms.

On an in breath, let's bend the knees deeply, gaze forward. As you exhale, step the right foot forward. We'll step the left foot just a touch forward so that you can lower the heel down to the Earth and then we'll rise up to stand. Take a minute to find stability. You might need to widen the feet or change the length of your stance.

So in general, belly and hips are facing toward the front of the mat, but don't get too worked up about that. We'll breathe in and sweep arms, hands, and fingers toward the sky. Press the left heel into the floor. And as you exhale, start to bend the right knee, bend at the elbows. And let's do that a couple of times.

So we're feeling our way into Virabhadrasana one from the back foot, left heel presses down, front knee bends. One more just like that. Breathing in, extending, breathing out, bending, anchored in the back heel. So you're using, again, my favorite, your glutes to support you here. Elbonus heavy, heart is light, belly engaged just enough so that this can be a back bend in the upper register of the back rather than the mid to low back.

Soften the hands. And we're going to add a little beast master action here. So imagine that you have eyeballs in the heels of your hands, which would be weird and cool. Let the backs of the hands soften as the heels, the eyeballs in the heels of the hands start to gaze up. Let the back body soften and sort of drop into that left heel.

On an inhalation, we'll reach arms, hands, and fingers toward the sky. We'll pivot onto the ball of the left foot, bend the left knee, and slowly, slowly, slowly transition toward Virabhadrasana three. So lift that leg slowly, extend through the fingertips, extend through the ball of that left foot. Soft in the shoulders. On an inhalation, we'll bring the body upright.

We'll bring that left knee forward, bend at the elbows, exhale, sit down into Garudasana. Close the book of the arms, rest the right elbow in the crook of the left arm, soft. Let the structure support a little bit of sagging. As you inhale, start to unravel, exhale, step back to warrior one. Inhale, reach up, forward, and down, and exhale, kind of like tiger paw your way back to downward facing dog.

Feel your way around. Now in down dog, this place between side one and side two, feel into both sides of the body, and notice what happened. As you inhale, bend the knees, gaze forward, and as you exhale, step the left foot forward between the hands. We'll scoot the right foot forward just a touch, lower the heel down, anchor into that heel, and then rise up to stand. I think it's worth it to find stability before you go anywhere.

Maybe widen the stance, lengthen or shorten the feet, press that right heel into the floor, inhale, sweep arms, hands, and fingers toward the sky, and as you exhale, press the right heel into the floor as you bend the left knee. Couple of times, just like that. Bend to get the elbows. Last one, just like that, making good contact between the right heel and the floor, feeling the strength of the right leg, feeling the length up the front of the right side of the body, soften into the elbows, soften into the backs of the hands. Remember those eyeballs in the heels of your hands.

So we have this like Beastmaster situation happening, soften the tops of your hands, the finger, the nail beds, and then gaze up with the heels of the hands, soften into the back of the body. Now we're anchored, but we're open. Now as you breathe in, we'll reach arms, hands, and fingers toward the sky, we'll pivot onto the ball of the right foot, bend the left knee, and as you exhale, we'll start to transition toward Virabhadrasana 3, Warrior 3, lengthening, Barbie foot, soft at the skin, soft at the base of the skull. As you inhale, sweep that right leg forward, come to upright, bend at the elbows, exhale into Garudasana, wrapping the right leg around the left, closing the arms, resting the left elbow in the crook of the right. Bend into it, sag into the support you're receiving.

Inhale, unwind, exhale, step back to Virabhadrasana 1. Now reach up, forward, and down, exhale, back to downward dog, so paw your way into it, feel your way around, and on an inhalation we'll lower the knees to the floor, and on an exhalation we'll lower the elbows down to the floor. Elbows are closer in here, they're right below the shoulders, the heads of the arms, the tops of the shoulders. And the next couple of exercises or practices that we'll do can be done here from forearm table or from forearm plank, and so you might extend the legs back, and to begin as you inhale we'll glide forward, and as you exhale we'll glide back. Inhale glide forward, exhale glide back, inhale glide forward, exhale glide back, inhale glide forward, exhale glide back.

Inhale lower the knees to the floor if they're not already, and give yourself a little break. You might sort of lift the hands away from the floor, wiggle the fingers. So that's called gliding. Now we'll practice sagging, which remember we reclaimed the word sag in yoga, can be done either from forearm table or forearm plank. As you inhale let the heart sag between the shoulders, and as you exhale press back up.

Inhale sag, exhale press up. Press the inner edges of the shoulder blades as you sag and press back up, sag, press back up. One more inhale sag, exhale press. Lower the knees, this time lower the hips toward the heels, and the forehead toward the floor. Pull the forehead from left to right.

And from here as you inhale we'll pull the body back toward table, we'll lower the elbows down to the earth, and we'll organize the thumbs, the hands so that the thumbs have about an inch to an inch and a half between them. We'll tuck the toes under, move the hips toward the heels, and then lift the hips into dolphin. Now you might for a breath or two just sort of like let the head dangle, feel your way into this, and then we'll practice dolphin kisses. As you inhale lower your nose or your kisser toward your thumbs and exhale press back up. Inhale lower, exhale press back up.

Three more just like that. Exhale lower the knees to the floor, shake out the ankles, exhale lower your hips toward your heels and the forehead toward the floor. And while you continue to sort of rest here, I'm just going to talk about some stuff, namely bravery when we go upside down. Even when we've got lots of supports, like today we'll be working with three blocks, there is bravery, there's a requirement of bravery. And in order to step into that, you know, where we're sort of walking next to our fear, it's good to sort of create conditions for success, like to do the work, to show up to the practice, the abhyasa piece.

And the exercises, the techniques that we've just been working with, gliding, sagging, dolphin kissing, all of those are intended to sort of create conditions for strength, for support, for success. And all of that is sort of something you just stick in your pocket when fear starts to rear its head. And we've talked before about how bravery isn't the absence of fear, sort of walking beside fear, because, you know, for lots of us, like at some point fear has saved our lives, you know, whether it's like whatever that little voice of intuition in you has said, don't do that, has at one point saved you. And so there's nothing wrong with being afraid, it's useful. But it's also useful to say to your fear, I appreciate you so much, but I have this covered because I can do my dolphin kisses.

So with that in mind, with dolphin kisses in mind, we will prepare for head standing. And the version that we'll be working with today is one that I learned from Patricia Sullivan, the three block version, and no weight is on the top of the head. And this is the way I like to practice after years and years and years of practicing with weight on the head. It feels better. It feels sustainable for me to practice without all of the weight of my body in my neck and my head.

And so that's why I'm sharing this version with you that I love so much. I'm using three blocks. But if you don't have three blocks, which most people don't at home, at least one of these can be substituted with a big thick book, like a Harry Potter book, or infinite jest, or the complete works of Shakespeare, or a dictionary. And what we'll do is we'll set them up at the wall with one, the bottom one, in its tallest position with the shortest edge facing the wall. And this block will have a bit of space between it and the wall because it will be making contact with the back of your head.

Now if you're working with a book instead of a block, this is the one where I'd use the book. And then on top of that, we're placing two blocks in their flattest position on top. And these are going to make contact with the upper back. Now we've talked about this before, but I feel like it's really worth bringing up again and again and again. But your feet never have to leave the floor in this shape ever, no matter what.

You're in the shape even when the feet are on the floor. So do what feels good here for you and your body in this moment. Feel your way in. We'll come to table facing the blocks, facing the wall, and we'll lower the elbows down to the floor. And remember, they're much closer than you might imagine.

Elbows are right below the heads of the arms, and the fingers wrap around this bottom block. Let the head become heavy here, and just maybe nod the head yes and shake the head no. And in time, we'll lift the hips. So we're in something like dolphin where we're holding onto the bottom block, but everything else is just like regular old-fashioned dolphin. So from here, what I like to do is bring the head in so that it's making contact with that bottom block, and then walk the feet in until the upper back makes contact with the top two blocks.

And there's a little moment of trust there where you're wondering, are they really there? They are. And this is where all that hamstring work that we did comes in handy because you might be feeling those hamstrings now. Let your upper back be supported here. Make sure that no weight is on your head.

Invite the tops of the shoulders away from the ears, the shoulder blades down the back. And you might experiment with lifting one leg, lifting another leg. And if, and only if, there is truly no weight on your head, if there is weight on your head, do not do this. But if there is no weight on your head, you can kick up. Tops of the shoulders away from the ears.

See, my head and neck are totally free. Stay as long as you like. And once you've had enough, spend some good time in child's pose. Time will roll on up. Check in.

How do you feel? How do your systems feel? How does your spine feel? How does your neck feel? This might be a time to go back to what is the purpose of my practice?

And how does this particular shape fit into that? You know, for me, like, the reason I practice has nothing to do with accomplishing shapes. It has everything to do with being a nicer, kinder, more helpful human. And I can tell you that having the feet in the air doesn't matter for my purposes. But that's something that you really have to feel your way into for you.

And I hope you do. So from here, we will use two of the blocks to move toward impressing the heart. And impressing the heart involves blocks in two steps, two pillows, one for the back of the skull, one for the back of the heart. The pillow for the back of the skull is one step higher than the pillow for the back of the heart. So your blocks could look like this, highest and medium.

Or they could look like this, medium and flattest. They could also look like one block in flattest under the back of the skull. We have lots of options. The world is your oyster, as they say. And so we'll recline over these.

And I think it's useful to sort of bend the knees, soles of the feet on the floor, and to move back, positioning the first pillow sort of at the latitude of the bottom of the shoulder blades, and then releasing the head back. So make sure that the bottom edge of this block is flush with the floor. Right under the bulbous part of the skull so that the back of the neck is lengthening and the chin is tucked slightly. You might let the backs of the hands rest on the earth. And if it's not too much on your low back, extend the legs.

And again, so we've created these structures here with the blocks. And we let ourselves sort of sag into that support, yield to the support that you are receiving. And your awareness might sort of naturally rest in the bowl of the heart. Your awareness might also sort of rest in the space between the eyebrows. This entire sequence was inspired by Parvati, one of the consorts of Shiva.

And the essence to me of Parvati is making your own luck by creating conditions for things to happen. And Parvati did that when she wanted Shiva as her husband. She meditated and meditated and meditated on Shiva. And it also happened, another story, when Parvati made her own luck was when she manifested her child Ganesh. And one of the stories is that she manifested her child Ganesh by sort of massaging her own skin and rubbing the essence and the sweat and the dead skin cells that she sloughed off of her own skin into a child.

And of course, the work itself isn't everything. And with Ganesh, if you've ever seen Ganesh depicted, you see that he has an elephant head and not a human head. And so on top of the work, there's this letting go so that the magic can happen, so that the things that we could never imagine working towards are able to reveal themselves. But we always have to remember that the Vairagya is necessary, the letting go. And in time, we'll start to bend the knees, bringing the soles of the feet to the floor.

And very carefully, let the knees start to drop to one side, come on to the elbow of that side, sweep the other arm over, use the strength of the arms, use the structure of the arm bones to move the blocks out of the way, come back down onto the floor. And we'll extend the right leg long onto the floor as you then hug the left knee in toward the chest. And for a moment, like just be with the shimmering length of the right side of the body as you casually hug the left knee. And on an inhalation, you might sort of intensify the hug. And as you exhale, we'll peel the back of the skull away from the floor, gazing down at your right toes.

Inhale, release the head to the earth. Exhale, relax the hug and extend fully. Maybe wiggle from side to side. And notice what you feel. And in time, we'll draw that left knee in toward the chest, casually hug.

Be with the shimmering length of the left side of the body. And as you inhale, hug the knee in, exhale, peel the head from the floor, gaze down at your left toes, inhale, release, exhale, release fully. Maybe wiggle. And if there are movements that still need to be made, then make those, otherwise start to unfold into your shape of rest, your shape of integration. Hold to the support of the earth, sag into the support of the earth.

Stay here as long as you like. Rest in the luck of your breath. And when the time comes to move, move like you. And feel your way back to a seat. So many things went right so that we could be together today.

What luck for us. Thank you for being here. Jai Ma.


Trudie B
1 person likes this.
I can do a tripod headstand no problem, piking the legs up with control, or doing a straddle press. But whenever I try any variation where my elbows are down, I just cannot keep them on the mat. Help!!
Jenny S
2 people like this.
I always love come back to the sweet, dreamy quality of your practices. This was a sunrise yoga for me, and Iā€™m feeling refreshed and happy as I venture out into the day...thank you Kelly šŸŒ…šŸ™šŸ»
Kelly Sunrose
Jenny  Thank you so much for writing (and for practicing with me). I appreciate your sharing so much. To dreamy sunrises! 

You need to be a subscriber to post a comment.

Please Log In or Create an Account to start your free trial.

Footer Yoga Anytime Logo

Just Show Up

Over 2,900 yoga and meditation practices to bring you Home.

15-Day Free Trial