So there are just a couple things left to cover before we get into the juicy headstands. One of them is learning to fall, which is super important, but we will get into that later this week. The other is equally important: counter poses. A counter pose is a pose that moves your body in an opposite direction of the previous pose for the purpose of restoring balance in your body. They're designed to make you feel good again after you reach your edge and they are crucial when it comes to inversions, especially headstand. Without them, you risk injury, and with a pose like headstand, that injury could be to your head, neck, shoulders, back, or some other VIP body part. No bueno, right? I can't say enough just how vital counter poses are to making sure you don't destroy your body so be sure to incorporate them into your practice, especially when playing upside down.
The Counter Poses
To start, let's go super basic and talk about Child's Pose, Balasana. Child's Pose is a great counter pose to heated inversions (aka hard ass poses) like headstand, handstand, forearm stand. In these kinds of active inversions, your core, back, shoulders, and wrists are all firing to turn you upside down and Child's Pose offers a sweet release to all of these body parts. Press your hands into the mat as you sink your hips back on to your heels, stretching your chest down. Feel your shoulders release as your forehead presses into the mat and allow your low back to let go. Taking a wide-kneed Child's Pose (picture below) will offer more of a hip opener, but if you want to focus on your low back, keep your knees together so that your back is rounded a little more. From here, you can also reach your arms towards your toes to further release the back.
A second option is Puppy Pose, Anahatasana. Puppy Pose has a special place in my heart, and it's not just because its Sanskrit name, Anahatasana, has the same first 5 letters as Anahita. Puppy Pose is a legit shoulder opener and a great substitute for Child's Pose if you have any ankle or foot issues. For some people, Child's Pose just puts too much pressure on your ankles so that a pose that is supposed to be amazingly yummy becomes the worst thing ever. In Puppy Pose, though, your hips are stacked over your knees and you aren't putting any pressure on your ankles. It also offers more of a backbend and shoulder release. From table pose, keep your knees over your hips as you walk your hands out in front of you until your forward or chin touch the mat. If you want less of a backbend or shoulder opener, simple! Just don't sink your chest down as a low :)
A third option is Rabbit Pose, Sasangasana. You won't see this pose too often in class, I think because it's a bit difficult to teach in an all-levels class. Not only is it awkward to get into Rabbit Pose, you also need to be careful with the placement of your head so that you don't end up straining your neck. Starting in a kneeling position, shift forward and place the top of your head on the mat, as close to your knees as possible. Reach your arms back and grab hold of your heels, ankles or calves as you lean forward, bringing your hips over your knees. You should feel a wonderful stretch along the back of your neck all the way down your spine. Be careful not to press the top of your head down too hard and enjoy!
One final counter pose is a good old-fashioned neck stretch which is awesome after a practice, but it's also a great way to begin your practice. To start, spend 5-10 breaths taking gentle neck circles 5-10 breaths in each direction, and bring your head back to center when finished. Take a deep breath in and slowly lower your right ear to right shoulder as you exhale. As gently as possible, place your right hand over your head (fingertips will be near the top of your left ear) and apply the tiniest bit of pressure to get a deeper stretch in your neck. If this feels good, you can press your left hand down your left shoulder to get even more of a stretch. Stay here for a few breaths, come back to center on an inhale, and then repeat on the other side.
I’m Anahita Reilly, a Type-A, native Northern Virginian, happiness lover. This blog evolved out of my longstanding desire to share this beautiful thing called yoga with others. Click here to read more...