Ah, the elusive sirsasana - climax of the Primary Series. It seems like the pose to conquer. It make my neck uncomfortable, but for the past few months, I can't seem to stop attempting the pose whenever I can! Talk about OCD....
[Addendum: Preparatory steps before attempting a headstand
I know I know, everyone wants to attempt a headstand right away. It looks cool and you want to try it out, even if it means falling on your face during your first attempt! I wasn't that brave, but I did want to start practicing the full version as soon as possible. However, my awesome teacher, having observed many headstand-related neck issues, made us practice the dolphin pose each class and told us that we should not start practicing the headstand until we could hold this pose for 30 breaths. How to practice the dolphin pose: head completely off the ground, support body weight on forearms and shoulders, fingers loosely interlaced, slowly walk the legs closer towards the arms until your body feels vertical (shoulders over elbows) and your feet are on tippy toes. This pose does NOT feel good... in fact, it feels a lot less comfortable than doing the actual headstand. However it's way safer and builds strength in your arms and shoulders required to do a safe headstand. ]
Yes I realize I should put 90% body weight on my forearms/elbows, only 10% pressure on my head, but once my legs are off the ground, my attention goes to the dangling legs and the body, and my poor head and neck are sadly neglected until my feet land on the ground again. I mean, I can feel my head and neck being somewhat uncomfortable the whole time, but my mind says to them, "You guys shut up! Quit complainin' will ya? Just stay put and support the rest of the body! You're on the ground so you're safe. I'm going to worry about the moving body parts instead." I'm not very nice to myself I guess.. that's probably why my neck has been sore for the last few weeks :p
My teacher teaches the version where both legs rise up slowly together. Some people kick one leg up and then try to get the other leg to meet the one up in the air. For some unknown reason my teacher discourages that, so I've been practicing it his way. When I try it at home, I could feel tremendous engagement in my abdomen and psoas, and then as the legs rise up, at some point the abs and psoas seem to lose the intense engagement with the legs, and then I panic and either smash my feet into the wall if I'm near one, or, if I practice it in the middle of the room, my legs kick wildly, losing balance, then I roll over jamming my interlaced fingers. Yay clumsy me! Thank goodness for thick carpets. [ To avoid rolling your head on your interlaced fingers (ouchy knuckles), tuck your chin into your chest if you end up falling over ].
It's fun to practice the pose with someone spotting me in class. Feels very different than practicing next to a wall. I don't really know why the hands guiding the hips help so much. I used to think that it was my teacher lifting my legs up in the air, but if I really think about it, that's a lot of weight to lift up with just a few fingers. So really, they just act as guides for my mental security, but they seem to help so much! Also, I used to practice to lift my legs until they make contact with the wall. Not a very good habit because I always rely on the wall being there. The mischievous yoga teacher, on the other hand, lets me make contact, then moves away, causing me to go into a major panic mode before giving me his shoulder or hand support again. It always felt like a disaster (sometimes he doesn't manage to catch my legs so they come crashing down), but a classmate behind me told me after class recently that I had a nice-looking free headstand.. huh? Really? I managed to stay upright on my own for an observable amount of time? Yay! Certainly didn't feel that way while I was in the pose, but thanks!
After a few weeks of struggling with up-side-down balance, I can now do a free headstand at home! Yay! The trick is to not panic when I feel I lose my core engagement when my legs are about 10-20 degrees from the vertical line. Trust that my legs are already up in the air, and let my body (and head) do their balancing act. Then work on trying to straighten the legs. Actually I have no idea if my body is straight or not because I can't see myself in a mirror. Right now I still can't do it in class without a spotter because I'm usually too exhausted 2/3 way through the Primary series. Hopefully in the next few weeks (or early next year) I'll be able to get it in the classroom, without assistance (and not fall on anybody)! Someone fell on me once; I think that's why I hesitate to be more daring in class.
Yoga. is. fun. Makes me feel like I'm still a kid, which I still feel like one at the age of 30.
[Addendum: As Loo pointed out in the comments below, I did *not* anticipate that even after I have built enough arm/shoulder strength practicing the dolphin pose, it's still possible to put too much weight on my head due to negligence/laziness. That's when this whole blogging / getting feedback from the online yoga community thing comes in handy :) ]