A yoga practice has many benefits including physical health, emotional balance and a spiritual connection with a source of power greater than ourselves. In the western world, we tend to focus on the physical health benefits such as strong muscles and endurance. Each category of yoga asanas (postures) has its benefits. For example, standing poses like Triangle or Warrior II build strength and stability in the legs and core; they are grounding and build endurance.
When it comes to the category of inversions, we tend to think of them as advanced practices and may be tempted to forgo them in the practice because they are a lot of work or you "just don't feel like doing them today." Well, practicing your inversions, specifically headstand (salamba sirsasana) and shoulderstand (salamba sarvangasana) is one way to get a huge benefit from the asana practice. Practiced together (within one asana session), these two poses help balance the endocrine system which gives us hormonal balance and general, all-over well-being.
There are many methods of practicing and teaching the inversions, and it is up to you to discern what is best for you. I will outline the practice as I was taught. In this way, I teach shoulderstand first. Once a certain level of comfort is gained, headstand is added. While we learn them in that order, when including them in a yoga sequence, headstand is practiced early and shoulderstand is often the last posture before savasana (corpse pose).
Headstand can be thought of as the King of postures. It has masculine energy in that it is invigorating and energizing. It takes strength (and creates strength). Headstand stimulates the pituitary and pineal glands which are major hormone regulators for the body. Shoulderstand is the Queen of postures. It has feminine energy in that it is calming, introspective (you're forced to look at your body) and it stimulates the thyroid, which again is an important hormone producer/regulator in the body. Practiced together, these become therapeutic postures for a healthy menstrual cycle (note: be on the look out for my new online course Yoga Through the Month for a Healthy Cycle, coming out in January).
In the sequence below, you will learn the step-by-step practice of shoulderstand with me. As always, it is important to work with an experienced yoga instructor as you move along. I hope you enjoy this sequence. Learning headstand is up next.