Saturday, 2 January 2016

Krishnamacharya's early Sirsasana instructions including Exploring the tricky ekapada sirsasana ( or ekapada viparitakarani)

Carried over from April 2015 my main blog Ashtanga Vinyasa Krama Yoga at Home

I currently have a soft spot for this headstand variation, ekapada viparitakarani

I came across it awhile back in Krishnamacharya's Yoga Makaranda (Part II) but couldn't figure out what was going on in the instructions or how to get into it.

Recently I saw a photograph of Simon Borg-Olivier in the posture, realised that it was possible and decided to explore. 

Before trying it you should be comfortable with the 2nd series Ashtanga Vinyasa  or vinyasa Krama niralumba sirsasana (without support) variations. 

The question now is do we have both hands outstretched, palms down, as in the Ashtanga 2nd series variation and then lower and raise one leg at a time or do we take only the one hand/arm out from behind the head and lower the leg to that. Krishnamacharya's instructions are unclear. 

I suggest trying the 'both arms outstretched in frount of you' variation first. Below I'm exploring a konasana variation following a misreading of the text.

Just goes to show how easily you can get it wrong practicing from a text. I misread Krishnamacharya here. thought he had written spread the legs into konasana then lower on to the palms but actually he spreads the legs into konasana for six breaths, then brings them back together before lowering. That said, I'm sure he practiced this variation also.

Assuming you're comfortable with the Ashtanga Vinyasa 2nd series unsupported headstand variations, the approach I take to the more challenging version is to move one hand from supported headstand into tripod then stretch my arm out, the back of the hand on the mat, then follow Krishnamacharya's instructions, lowering the foot to the hand for six breaths.

Return the same way via the hand in tripod.

Another variation might be to raise up into the headstand variation with one arm already outstretched

Sharath has suggested we explore longer headstands, this might be an option to look at while doing so along with many of those found in Ramaswami's Complete book of Vinyasa Yoga.

A curious thing about Krishnamacharya ( or the editor's) presentation is that he refers to this asana as SIRSHASANA-EKAPADA-VIPARITAKARANI. I'd always assumed viparitikarani was the mudra version of sirsasana and as a mudra perhaps more static, characterised by the employment of bandhas, kumbhaka's and longer stays, lowering and raising the leg in viparitakarani was then a surprise, perhaps this is why (Hatha Yoga) is included in brackets.

I don't tend to think long stays in an unsupported headstand variations is appropriate, in the Ashtanga 2nd series variations one only stays for five breaths. It's true that Krsihnamacharya only indicates six breaths here but he tends to recommend long, slow breathing in his asana practice as well as in the vinyasa, when added to the kumbhaka  (even the shorter one of a couple of seconds recommended for sirsasana) that's a significant period of time without support for the neck.

First attempt to explore this full sequence together rather than separately. Faster breathing than usual because of the recording and a little unsteady due to some anxiety about the glass shoji screens to my left (showing up especially on the second side). The second eka pada approach comes up 3 and a half minutes in.

Below are Krishnamachayra's instructions, starting off with those for sirsasana as he refers to them in the later asana.

Sisshasana, Yoga Makaranda Mysore, 1934

This asana is so called because the head supports the whole body. This is also variously called KAPHALASANA, BRAHMASANA. These three, however, differ to some extent both in the technique and in the benefits derived. These differences have to be learnt under personal instructions form a Guru. This asana is beneficial in a large number of diseases and is rightly termed the ‘king of all the asanas’.


1. Place something soft, like a cushion, folded blanket or carpet on the floor touching the wall.

2. Kneel on the ground facing the wall.

3. Lock the fingers together, thumbs upright, and place them about four inches from the wall. Let the elbows rest on the cushion, the elbows being not more than a foot apart.

4. Bend the neck and place the top of the head firmly on the cushion inside the knitted fingers. The thumbs should press behind the ears.

5. Eyes are to be kept closed.

6. Raise the hips, so that the knees are straightened and bring the feet as near the head
as possible. The toes, the feet and knees are to be kept together. The back will now rest
against the wall.

7. Take long breaths twice.

8. Lift both the feet simultaneously to an upright position. Toes together, knees
together. The back will rest on the wall. Straighten the back so that the whole body may rest solely on the top of the head without the support of the wall.
Note: For beginners to raise the legs upright without bending the knees will be difficult and the help of another person may be taken. If necessary the knees may be bent, brought closer to the body, the back still kept in contact with the wall and with a slight jump the legs taken above the head, and the knees still bent. The legs are then straightened slowly, the knees together, the toes together and the toes pointed.

9. Toes should be pointed and the thigh and calf muscles should be stretched.

10. Slowly inhale and exhale deeply with rubbing sensation in the throat. When exhalation is complete the abdomen should be well drawn in (UDDIYANA BANDHAM).

For proper benefit of the asana it is essential that the breathing should be regulated i.e., as long and as thin as possible,
Normal shallow breathing does not give any benefit. (Concentration on Lord Ananthapadmabanabha gives added benefit.) (a combination of asana, pranayama and dhyana gives proper benefit.) (See in this connection Sutra 47 Chapter II of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, Vaschaspati Misra’s and Bala Ramodasin’s commentaries.

For the first week do not exceed six inhalations and exhalations. There should be no retention of breath. Uddiyana bandha, in the beginning should be done only once a day.
Every week the number of inhalations and exhalations may be increased by four, so that the duration of the asana is slowly brought up.

11. After the number of rounds of breathing is over, slowly bring down the legs. In the beginning the knees may have to be bent, but as practice advances, the knee can be kept straight.

12. Lie on the back relaxed and take rest for at least for three minutes.
Note: 1. For people who are overweight over 190 lbs. Sirshasana should be begun only after the weight has been reduced.


Preparation, move one hand from supporting the head to laying out flat in frount of you


1. The first three steps are the same as for the last asana.

2. While exhaling, slowly lower right leg to the ground so that the right foot will rest
on the right palm. The left leg is kept upright. The thigh and calf muscles of both the legs
are kept stretched.

3. Stay in this position for 6 breaths.

4. While inhaling, raise the leg back to the upright position.

5. Repeat with the left leg.

6. The next steps are the same as in step 7 of the previous asana.



1. The first eight steps are the same as for Sirshasana.

2. Exhaling, the legs are spread apart, and the thigh and calf muscles kept stretched,
toes should be pointed.

3. Do six deep breathing.

4. Inhaling, bring the legs together.

The next steps are the same as 11 and 12 given under Sirshasana.


The hands outstretched variation of sirsasana in 2nd series as preparation for lowering the feet to the hands


1. The first step is the same as Sirshasana.

2. While exhaling both the legs are lowered to the ground without bending the knees and keeping the thigh and calf muscles stretched.

3. Do six deep breathing.

4. While inhaling raise both the legs together to the upright position.

5. While exhaling bend knees and return to the floor and rest.

6.     Exhale, bend knees, so that they approach the throat, lower the hips so that the back rests on the ground and then stretch the legs, so that the whole forms a rolling movement.

7. Take rest at least for a minute.

The thyroid gets special benefits. The waist line is reduced. This tones up the liver. This helps in preventing piles, and helps in curing gastric troubles.
(Note: The above three variations are according to Hatha Yoga).


In the beginning it may be difficult to bring the body to an upright position without bending the knees.

So the knees may be bent and the thighs bent over the body.
The hips are raised from the ground and the back supported by the palms.
The legs are now stretched.

If there is still difficulty, then help of somebody should be taken.

If the body is fat and no help is available, the help of the wall may be sought so that it can support the heels at gradually increasing levels.

This is done by lying on the ground facing the wall perpendicular to it.
After some time the hips can also be raised by having a bedroll near the wall.
When some strength is gained the heels are removed from the wall and the legs brought upright.

(As breathing exercises are done in these positions the abdominal muscles get toned up and the stomach becomes more and more pliable and soft.

The chin should be locked in the neck pit. This ensures that the head is placed symmetrical with the body so that the neck muscles may not be strained. The neck pit is the depression in front of the thyroid between the collar bones.
Note: The chin lock will not be possible in the beginning stages, but it should be kept in mind that the head is kept symmetrical with the body and the neck muscles are not strained.

The full chin lock will become possible when the body is fully upright and the palms have reached a position in the back as low as possible.

Slowly inhale and exhale with even, long breaths through both nostrils, with rubbing sensation in the throat, not more than six times at the beginning. There should be no retention of breath. The number of inhalations and exhalations may be slowly increased at the rate of two each week.

The final duration of this asana can be 5 to 10 minutes when it is done by itself. If on the other hand other asanas are also being done the duration may be suitably reduced.



From Krishnamacharya's 

Salutations to the teacher the Eternal one 
Yoga Makaranda part II


Whatever be the walk of life one occupies, he will not be able fully to discharge his duties or enjoy its benefits unless he ensures a healthy body, bold and clear mind and long life. For the attainment of these essential pre-requisite conditions, no system can equal the practice of YOGA which has been laid down in such meticulous detail by our ancient rishis.

Numerous asanas have been mentioned in the treatises on YOGA. Each has its own special benefits. But of all these asanas, the SIRSHASANA and the SARVANGASANA hold the top place as they give the greatest benefit, and sastras extol their benefit.

In the normal erect posture, the main organs of perception, eyes, ears, etc., and the brain do not get a copious supply of blood as they are situated above the heart, and the blood to flow to these organs has to work against gravity. Again when we breathe in, and retain the air in the lungs, there is an increase of thoracic pressure with the consequence that there is a tendency to press down on the intestines, liver, kidneys diaphragm etc., that these organs get displaced. Their proper functioning is impaired and a host of diseases, like constipation, rheumatism, varicose veins, ungainly figure etc. follow.

In designing the SIRSHASANA and SARVANGASANA the rishis have automatically removed the above difficulties by adopting the topsy-turvy posture by which gravity will now aid in the free flow of blood to the organs of perception and also aid in restoring the organs in the lower part of the body to their normal places. These two asanas are both preventive and curative. In the case of those, however, who are unduly fatty, it is imperative that the body should first acquire some suppleness in the movement of the limbs by practicing mudras and pranayamas, before attempting these asanas.
Sayanacharya in his commentary on Patanjali’s YOGASUTRAS has given a lot of practical details to be observed in the practice of asanas. The main objective of SIRSHASANA and SARVANGASANA are not merely to arrange for a copious supply of blood to the head and upper part of the body but also to slow down the respiratory rate.

When SIRSHASANA has been sufficiently mastered, the breathing rate which normally is about 15-18 a minute, automatically comes down to four a minute. The aim should be to reduce it to, two per minute. Thus at this rate, 24 rounds of breathing in SIRSHASANA will take 12 minutes.

It is laid down that SIRSHASANA should be done only in the mornings. This should always be followed by SARVANGASANA. The proper procedure is to do SIRSHASANA with 24 deep inhalations and exhalations. Take two minutes rest. Then do SARVANGASANA with 24 rounds of deep breathing. Take two minutes rest. Follow with some sitting asana. In SIRSHASANA the organs in the head and the brain get a copious supply of blood, the internal organs in the body get displaced upwards. The two minutes rest normalizes. In SARVANGASANA the blood supply to the head is restricted by resting the body on the neck and making the chin lock. The thyroid and the upper part of the internal organs of the body get displaced upwards. The two minutes rest normalizes. When a sitting asana is now done the internal organs regain their proper positions. This is the reason behind doing the asanas in this particular order.

Sayanacharya has mentioned six specific asanas for daily practice. He however prescribes that along with these some other asanas (this may vary each day) should be done.

BLOG NOTE: Krishnamacharya may well be here referring to these asana which he has indicated as as ideally practiced everyday 1. Paschimottanasana, 2. mayarasana 3. mahamudra 4. baddha konasana 5. sarvangasana 4. sirsasana


In SIRSHASANA, normally no kumbhakam need be done (in the beginning), though about two seconds ANTHAR and BAHYA kumbhakam automatically result when we change over from deep inhalation to deep exhalation and vice versa. During the automatic pause, kumbhakam takes place. 

When after practice has advanced and kumbhakam is deliberately practised, ANTHAR kumbhakam can be done up to 5 seconds during each round and BAHYA kumbhakam up to 10 seconds.
In SARVANGASANA, there should be no deliberate practice of ANTHAR kumbhakam, 
but BAHYA kumbhakam can be practiced up to 5 seconds in each round.

These deep breathings along with the asana help in slowing down the breathing rate with a consequent elongation of life. Sayanacharya prescribes that the number of deep breaths one should practice per day should not be less than 320. This number could be spread out during the day-some may be done along with asana in the morning and evening, some along with pranayama, morning, noon, evening and at midnight, or whenever some spare time is

More on Krishnamacharya's headstands here

Some more sirsasana variations from Krishnamacharya from 1938 (Mysore).

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