By Shameem Akthar
The headstand and the crow pose should be a mandatory part of yoga practice, says Shameem Akthar, because they encode yoga’s philosophy
Many yoga classes bypass the headstand (shirsasana), and the crow pose (kakasana, sometimes called the bakasana/crane pose). Unless there are health issues of the neck and circulation (including heart problems), there is no reason why the headstand should not be taught. Often, it is the fear of the teachers that prevents them from prodding the students out of their limitations. As for the crow pose, there is absolutely no reason why it should not be taught. However, these poses require immense attention and detailing from the instructor, which may explain why they are not taught. Nevertheless, the entire philosophy of yoga could well be hidden in the technique of these marvelous poses. In them, theory becomes an actual experience – the raja yoga of mind control, through the hatha yoga of physical poses.
Asanas involving higher chakras
The reason I like these poses is that they involve the higher chakras – the headstand is a sahasrara chakra (crown center) pose, while the crow is an ajna chakra (third eye/sixth center) pose. In addition, the idea of a strength that comes from softness is made absolutely clear in them. The idea of sense withdrawal, pratyahara (fifth limb of the eight-limbed ashtanga yoga) cannot be more explicitly transcribed than through these poses.
In both poses, the primal biological fear of falling has to be overcome. Balance has to be created, where no center can initially be felt. In them, actually you break dominant patterns of your life. The patterns (samskaras) were created as a protective mechanism. But on the mat, when you do these poses, they come in the way. Unless you scythe through them, you may not even be able to reach these poses!
You struggle to find a center and balance, as we do in everyday life, then grasp it as it softly flows by. Instead of searching for the center, you enter it and become steady, relaxed and meditative. You are not desperate for the center. You become the center. You understand, as you hold these poses that the mind remains super alert, but it is not anxious. It can step back from its basic fears. Time has a sense of standing still, as strength develops. The senses are alert but not interfering. For me, the idea of Gita’s message of doing without the sense of effort comes through, in these difficult (initially) balance. As the poses become part of your life, you understand the idea of letting go, and action in inaction.
This is a preparatory pose for headstand and builds strengths needed in the upper back.
Go on your fours. Cup elbows with either hand. Place elbows on the ground, then interlock palms, as shown. Lift knees off the ground, straightening the legs. Look ahead. Come up on your toes. Now inhale and exhale. Next, inhale. Exhaling move face over the hands, as in a push up. Inhale, to return to starting position. This is one round. Do up to five rounds initially, increasing up to 10/15 rounds over a few days/weeks.
Benefits: It builds upper body and core strength, prepares you for the headstand. Improves focus.
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