As a teacher, I find helping students up into headstand to be extremely rewarding. Many times, students try to hop up, which I strongly discourage as a teacher. Hopping up into supported headstand, or salamba sirsasana (सलम्ब शीर्षासन), can destabilize the head and cervical spine, increasing the risk of injury. Instead, arriving in the full balance requires a slow, step-by-step effort. Once the foundation is set in half-headstand, which is a downward-facing dog with the head and forearms on the ground, students must walk their feet in to line the hips up over the shoulders. Then, they must utilize core strength to bend the knees into the chest, one at a time, and then hover with both knees pulled into the chest with the feet off the ground. My teachers call this shape cosmic egg. Only after this step is reached can students start to rotate the knees up to the sky—unfolding at the hip crease—and then extend the legs straight up to find the full balance.
There's beauty in arriving someplace slowly and methodically. Not only beauty, but humility. It is a profound gesture of respect and reverence to move the body consciously, to acknowledge areas of tightness, to listen to that. Some find headstand a terrifying posture and just try to quickly hop up, which in a way bypasses the fear completely. When we move into a posture quickly and without much care or attention, we fail to be fully in the experience of the posture. A wise progression would be to acknowledge the fear and however it manifests—a held breath, tightness in the neck and shoulders—and either proceed slowly, with small incremental movements linked to the breath, or stop and experience what's going on in the body.
How we treat ourselves is usually indicative of how we treat others. In many respects, the asana room is a laboratory in which we can become aware of how we relate to the body and, ultimately, to ourselves. Great awareness is often a foundation for great change. By being more compassionate to ourselves, by moving slowly and tenderly holding whatever arises—be it playfulness or fear—we find it within our capacity to extend that same treatment to others.
Reggie Ray, an American Buddhist academic and teacher, once wrote, "Respecting the body, making room for it, and not exiting into mental judgment is what we call maitri, or love of our own personhood. And that is the basis for compassion for other people. Working with the body in a deep way is the ground of generating genuine compassion. It's based on acceptance of one's own experience, not just an idea of doing something nice for someone else. With such close attention to what's happening in our experience of being human, it's unavoidable that we're going to take the same attitude toward other people, welcoming, accepting, and being with them in the same way."