Headstands and Handstands – Should you be going upside down?

If you’re at all into yoga or even just fitness then I’m sure your social media is filled with pictures of people doing all sorts of handstands, headstands and forearmstands. Maybe you look at these pictures and find them inspirational giving you something to aim for and work towards or maybe you look at these pictures and think that’s impossible for you. Wherever you are on the scale, keep on reading for a discussion about inversions: what they are, why people do them and whether or not you should be getting upside down!

To invert has many meanings but the one we’re interested in here is ‘to turn inside out or upside down’ (as given on Merriam-Webster online). In yoga we don’t physically turn inside out but we do get upside down. One of the most common yoga poses, Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana), is actually an inversion; we invert the body so the head is below the heart. We can invert without coming into a balance and without taking our feet off the floor.

Traditionally inversions were done because it was believed we hold vital ‘nectar’ at our seventh chakra in our cranial vault, by going upside down we retain this valuable nectar keeping us younger, prolonging our life and preserving our prana or energy. As years have gone by we now invert for a number of different reasons. My favourite reasons for going upside down are:

  • Health benefits – there are so many and I could go on for ages but just to break down a few top ones:
    • It gives the heart a break – the heart has to work heard to get blood flowing all around the body, down to the feet and all the way up to the brain. If we invert it allows blood to flow a lot easier meaning the heart doesn’t have to work so hard and can have a bit of a rest.
    • It strengthens the immune system – our lymphatic system, which removes waste from the body, is stimulated when we invert allowing it to do it’s job a lot easier. This can help strengthen the body’s immune responses.
  • Increases focus and clarity of mind – needless to say, when we go upside down, particularly in balances, our mind cannot wander or we fall out of the pose. So, by inverting we can focus the mind in the present and give it a bit of a rest from the day to day thoughts we often have floating around. It can be a great meditative practice.
  • Strengthens the upper body – holding a headstand or other inverted balance for any extended period of time is hard work on the shoulders, arms and also the core. It’s a great way to work out the upper body.
  • Challenges fear and mental limitations – some inversions are pretty accessible for most people but what stops us is our mind; we fear going upside down or falling, we think we aren’t strong enough or flexible enough. When we start to progress into inversions we break down those barriers and prove to ourselves that we are stronger than we know and capable of more than we give ourselves credit for.

 

So…should you be going upside down?

 

Short answer – hell yes, it’s amazing.

 

Longer answer – there are a few circumstances in which you shouldn’t invert.

  • If you have glaucoma or high blood pressure – inverting will bring more blood to the head/eyes so would not be advisable to those who already have conditions affecting this.
  • If you have any neck or shoulder injuries – you would not want to aggravate an injury.
  • If you’re pregnant – if you do not already have a strong inversion practice it is not advisable to start! I am not a pregnancy trained yoga teacher but am aware of some yogis who have a strong inversion practice and continue to do so without issue during pregnancy. I would always advise talking to your doctor first!
  • When you’re menstruating – there is no medical reason for you not to but you may not wish to. Personally, I feel so heavy and sluggish during the first couple of days of my period that I can barely get upside down even if I do try to.

 

Inversions can be a lot easier than expected. It’s often the case that our mind is more difficult to become comfortable with getting upside down than our body. Physically we are often capable it’s our mind that struggles to be ok with balancing upside down! It’s great to practice with others to begin with and learn how to get into inversions safely. I remember how nervous I was to begin with – thinking it’d be bad for my neck, that it might hurt and that I just wouldn’t be able to do it. It was such a great feeling when I first came into a headstand, I was so proud of myself achieving something I didn’t think I could. It’s been fun since then to see progress in my inversions and to try different types of inversions, different leg variations, different ways to get into headstand and also playing around with handstand and pincha.

If you fancy giving inversions a go or want to gain a bit more knowledge about how to actually get upside down why not join me for my Inversion Workshop on Saturday 22nd September 2018 3-5pm at A Fine Balance Studio. For more information or to book your place check out: https://www.afinebalance.me/workshops/2018/9/22/inversions-workshop-nail-your-headstand-forearmstand-with-goody-bag

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