I was inspired to write this article after teaching sirsasana (headstand) to a number of students earlier this month. We had already been practicing sarvangasana (shoulderstand) and the students were suprised at how different the experience of headstand was both physically and mentally.
These two postures should be part of a Yogis daily practice to receive the full benefits of being upside down. Viparita Karani affects both the physical and psychological state and this innovation of the ancient Yogi’s is a priceless aspect of the heritage of Yoga. It really is worthwhile to put some time into learning and practicing these postures.
Upside down postures are commonly termed inversions in western Yoga. As is the case with a number of Yoga postures and practices the English translations from Sanskrit do not convey the true significance of the posture. Viparita Karani means ‘opposite process’. Radically changing our perspective opens us to seeing the world in a new way and helps to transform the mind. The Yoga Sutras and the Upanishads indicate that the way we view ourselves and the world is incorrect. Yoga is a procedure to correct this fundamental error and headstand and shoulderstand symbolise this paradigm shift.
Placing our body physically in such a way that the effect of gravity is reversed offers numerous health benefits for the whole human system. Cardiovascular fitness is improved without raising the pulse or blood pressure. Enhanced venous return, improved cardiac output and toning, along with improved circulation to the legs are wonderful results of regular practice. Sirsasana also improves cerebral circulation preventing the changes that lead to senile dementia and strokes. The improved circulation to the entire system maintains the vitality of the cells and prevents premature aging. The senses are supplied with fresh blood enhancing their function. The respiratory function is improved and the nasal area is maintained in good health. All the internal organs are massaged and nourished by the flow of fresh blood. The nervous system, endocrine system and reproductive system all benefit from the practice. Sarvangasana means ‘all parts posture’, a posture that is beneficial to all parts of the body. Its English name shoulderstand, does not allude to the full significance of this position.
It is essential to stay in inversions for a minimum of five minutes to gain these benefits. It is necessary to follow a correct procedure of training under a competent teacher to prepare for and then practice and develop these asanas. Prepare correctly then gradually increase the time you stay in the postures. Include them in your daily practice.
Aim towards this goal initially. After appropriate preparation spend a few minutes in sarvangasana relaxing the legs, then practice sirsasana for five minutes, rest in savasana for two minutes then stay in sarvangasana for five minutes followed by counterposture. When you have mastered the core postures then you can proceed with the numerous vinyasas and also include bandhas for maximum benefits. There is not space in this short article to cover all the aspects and benefits of Viparita Karani. For further details you can refer to Srivatsa Ramaswami’s article and the appropriate sections in his books, Yoga For The Three Stages of Life and The Complete Book of Viny asa Yoga.