The gifts of sirsasana are so great that even if you are not ready to do the actual pose, you can benefit by preparing for it. The preparations help you strengthen the latissimus dorsi muscles—the large muscles that attach the upper arms to the back—as well as help create the awareness required to spread, lift, and strengthen the muscles around the shoulder blades so that the neck is protected.
Start in Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose) and focus on engaging the muscles that spread the shoulder blades away from each other, away from the floor, and toward the rib cage. This action will build the upper-body strength you will need, and when you re-create this in Sirsasana, both your head and neck will be protected. In Adho Mukha Svanasana, make sure that your shoulder blades are wide and your neck is long. (You can allow your head to rest on a block.) Check to see if your shoulders are below an imaginary line drawn between your wrists and buttocks—if so, you are ready to go on.
Learning how to set up your arms and head is the next step toward Sirsasana. Interlock your fingers and thumbs on the floor in front of you. Keep your wrists as far apart as possible and your elbows shoulder width apart, so that your inner elbows and inner armpits form a square. Place your head against your wrists and thumb mounds; your head should rest on the floor at your fontanel (the spot in front of the crown of the head) or slightly in front of it. You can find the fontanel by feeling for the big bump on the top of your head and then sliding your fingers forward; you will feel a valley (the fontanel) followed by a second bump. Then come out of the setup.
If you have stiff shoulders and a rounded upper back, try a Sirsasana preparation with firm pads against a wall. This helps flatten and open your upper back, create a soft neck, and encourage the sense of lift in your shoulders that is necessary for doing Sirsasana correctly. Set up your head and arms with your knuckles touching the wall, then walk your feet toward your arms and straighten your legs. Press your wrists down and try to take your shoulders off the pads; as you do so, you should feel your head lifting off the floor.
As a beginning, you should have 90 percent of your weight on your forearms and 10 percent on your head in Sirsasana. As you evolve in the posture, you’ll put more weight on your head until eventually almost 100 percent of your weight is on your head. Many beginners find that Sirsasana is no longer scary when they realize there is very little weight on their head and neck.
The next step is Ardha Sirsasana (Half Headstand). There are no balance issues in this preparatory pose, because the arms are on the floor and the feet are pressing against the wall with the legs parallel to the floor. Start by kneeling with your back toward a wall, and place your arms on a sticky mat set a leg’s length from the wall. To set up the pose, interlock your fingers and thumbs, place your elbows shoulder width apart, bring your fontanel to the floor, and make sure that your head is not tipped or twisted to one side. Lift your shoulders, moving your shoulder blades up and apart like water flowing from a fountain. Then slowly walk your feet up the wall until your thighs and legs are parallel to the floor. Hold the pose for about half a minute—being very aware of your shoulder blades lifting and expanding—and then come down. If your shoulder blades moved up and away from each other in the pose, you are ready for Sirsasana.
To move into the full pose, set your sticky mat next to a wall and place your knuckles next to the wall. To come up, follow the setup instructions for the head and shoulders; then, with your legs bent, gently jump both legs up and land with the soles of your feet touching the wall. Straighten your legs one at a time, pressing them together.
When you come out of Sirsasana and sit up, you should feel a peaceful, focused sensation in your brain and nerves. Your hands should be calm and steady. If they are not, you have stayed too long, worked incorrectly, or worked too hard. Never strain in this pose. Have your teacher check your pose frequently to see that your head and neck are in the correct alignment and that your shoulders are lifting and widening properly.