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Some see the yoga headstand as beautiful ― others see it as a disaster waiting to happen. Where do you stand in the controversy? Better yet, have you tried putting the headstand in your own practice?
The famous yoga headstand has attracted all kinds of controversy from the yoga and medical worlds. While some organizations and individuals wholeheartedly promote the headstand, others fear and advise against it. Some yoga studio owners forbid their teachers to teach the headstand to even their most advanced students. Meanwhile, yoga experts of other traditions teach it to beginners.
What yoga teaches, and what I’ve learned as I’ve been interviewing world yoga experts, is that there are safe ways to practice headstand and its benefits.
Headstand in History
The headstand has been around much longer than we have ― and way before Instagram. Monks in the yoga tradition performed headstand as part of their spiritual practice, due to its benefits.
Swami Sivananda, one of the most renowned yoga masters in recent history, wrote about headstand with huge appreciation. Before Swami Sivananda took his vows to become a monk, he was a highly-revered medical doctor. He often prescribed yoga postures as part of his patients’ healing regimen.
Of all the postures he described as important for keeping up good health, headstand landed in his top three.
Ready to find out why headstand is so important? Here are 13 benefits― physical, mental, and spiritual.
Physical Benefits of the Headstand
In my Yoga Teacher Training Course we practiced the headstand on a daily basis. We were taught these physical benefits of the headstand:
• Draws plenty of prana (life force) and blood to the heart and brain
• Removes diseases of the intestines and stomach
• Purifies the blood
• Helps to remove diseases of the eye, nose, head, and throat
• Increases the digestive fire
• Helps cure diseases of the reproductive organs and sterility
• Energizes the body
• Improves longevity and youthful look.
Mental & Spiritual Benefits of the Headstand
Swami Sivananda wrote that lawyers, occultists, and thinkers will appreciate the headstand, as well as spiritual seekers. He said that headstand:
• Improves memory
• Prepares the body and mind for meditation
Improves self-control and sexual sublimation
• Brightens psychic faculties
• Is especially beneficial when practiced while repeating your mantra and controlling your breathing
• Helps us gain a new perspective!
Clearly, there are many benefits. And these are only some of them. The benefits tend to increase the longer you can comfortably hold the pose without strain. Is headstand something you think that you would try? If so, here’s now.
How to Prepare for the Headstand
1. Go slow. It’s important to get yourself into the right mindset before entering into the posture. As Swami Sivananda advised, “Do it slowly. Do not be anxious. Be calm. Be cool. There is the eternity before you.” This is the most significant thing to remember―it’s safest to go slow.
As a yoga teacher, I see students impatiently trying to force themselves up into a headstand. This is the type of attitude that can result in injury. Going slower will also help you build your core strength, as it is more physically demanding to go slow.
2. Lay off the buffet! Headstand, just like other yoga postures, is best to practice on an empty stomach. Try not to eat for 2-3 hours before you practice. Feel free to eat after.
3. Picture perfect. Before starting your headstand practice, rest in child’s pose and visualize yourself in the perfect headstand. Imagine that you have perfect control, ease, and grace in the posture. Then see yourself coming out of the posture with that same control. This will help you focus yourself on the task ahead and create mind-body awareness.
4. Do preparatory exercises. Not everyone is strong or flexible enough to get into the headstand on the first try. There are many preparatory exercises that can help you build your strength and flexibility, as well as less-intimidating variations of headstand that will help you overcome fears of being upside down.
How to Perform the Headstand
• Spread a blanket or a yoga mat. This will cushion your head.
• Make a finger-lock by interweaving the fingers and place your fingers above your opposite elbows. Place your elbows on the ground approximately one forearm’s distance.
• Rest the top of your head on the floor and place the back of your head in your hands.
• Walk your feet toward your head and the center of gravity will transfer to your head and elbows.
• Lift the toes off the ground and bring the knees to your chest.
• Lift the knees to the ceiling while your legs are still bent at the knees, feet toward the buttocks. Find your balance.
• Lift the feet to the ceiling once you’ve found your balance, and hold for as long as you can breathe comfortably through the nose without strain.
• Release the posture with control, reversing the steps you took to come in. Feet down first, then knees. Rest in child’s pose for several breaths before lifting your head.
How Important is It to Achieve the Full Headstand?
It’s not! You can still be happy, peaceful, and joyous for the rest of your life, even if you don’t achieve the full headstand. Phew! If it’s not in your highest interest to put headstand in your practice, you can do other variations to build up to it or choose from other yoga postures. In The Yoga Summit, I discuss a bunch of beneficial postures with our speakers. Shoulder stand is a great inversion to practice instead, as it has many similar benefits to headstand, plus some additional benefits for your metabolism!
Headstand Safety Precautions
It is recommended to avoid practicing headstand if you have glaucoma or eye issues, unmedicated high blood pressure, or neck problems. Some women prefer not to practice headstand while menstruating. As I always emphasize in The Yoga Summit, do only what is comfortable for you and go at your own pace!
Headstand Controversy: Who is Right?
There is no one answer that is correct for everyone. I recommend you find your middle way. The headstand is a completely safe and beneficial posture to practice. That being said, some people shouldn’t practice the headstand. Also, some people shouldn’t teach the headstand. If you’re at a studio where the teachers themselves do not practice or feel comfortable teaching headstand, these are certainly not the best choices of teachers to help you into the posture.
I want to know about your experience with the headstand. Do you think more people should try to turn their world upside down? Write in the comments below and get involved in the yoga conversation.
*Note from YOGI TIMES team: To take your practice to the next level, both on a physical and spiritual aspect, sign-up for the upcoming Yoga Summit, a 21-day online event starting February 2.