Most runners want to hit the elusive sub-7 minute mile, and many yogis want to defy gravity.
When I first started yoga, I was sure I’d never be able to do any kind of inversion, but I wanted to experience those poses so badly I didn’t give up!
Now that I’m able to do inverted yoga sequences, it’s still as satisfying as I thought it’d be, both for my ego and my body.
The headstand is considered the foundation of all of the yoga inversions. Placing your forearms and the crown of your head on the ground gives you a solid foundation for easier balancing, so a headstand is typically where new yoga students begin.
The benefits a headstand has for your body fully outweighs the bragging rights the pose will give to you.
The Many Benefits of the Headstand
At 93, yoga guru B.K.S Iyengar practiced a 30-minute headstand every morning. Iyengar claimed its benefits are what kept him so healthy in his advanced age.
While it generally takes decades of practice to safely and willingly hold a 30-minute sirsasana, don’t fret! There are also plenty of benefits for the average non-guru yoga student.
#1 Encourages Good Venous Return
You know, yoga isn’t all “nirvana this” or “namaste that”!
There’s plenty of science and athletic techniques which apply to your practice. While doing a headstand you make your body’s veins work a bit harder so blood reaches all of the organs it needs to.
Your brain and lungs are typically getting the short end of the stick in terms of venous flow, but when you’re upside down you’re bathing these organs in a wash of freshly oxygenated blood, which feels really exhilarating and refreshing!
Many athletes benefit from improved venous return because this pose helps alleviate the strain put on their hearts due to rigorous training.
Gravity works with venous return, so all of the organs that get less blood circulation really benefit when you’re in a headstand. (1)
#2 Stimulates the Immune System
The lymphatic system is a large part of your immune system. This system transports a magical little fluid called lymph throughout the body’s lymphatic vessels.
This fluid is rich in white blood cells, which is what fights against the bacteria and viruses that enter your body. The lymph nodes are scattered throughout your entire body and they act as filters.
When the lymph fluid comes through the lymph nodes, your glands begin to filter out bacteria and viruses. See, headstands are good for you and fascinating!
Also, when your body is inverted the one-way valves in the lymphatic vessels become activated, because everything is suddenly wanting to flow the other way.
This type of flow stimulates your lymphatic system, and when you recharge it, you’re making it stronger.
If you get sick a lot or if you’re around many germ-ridden children or coworkers, be sure to make headstands part of your yoga practice.
You will surely begin to notice a huge difference in your cold-fighting abilities. (2)
#3 Clears Your Mind
Remember the head rush you got when you’d hang upside down on the monkey bars as a kid? That rush was simply your blood rushing into your brain. Headstands have the same effect, only without that intense woozy feeling.
Headstands naturally clear your mind for two main reasons.
The scientific reason is because you’re washing your brain in well-oxygenated blood, dilating the vessels and sending more blood to the areas of the brain that are the most active. (3)
The less scientific reason is you can’t really let your mind race all over the place when you’re balancing upside down. Your focus is naturally going to be on engaging all of the necessary body parts to stay balanced without tipping over.
#4 Helps to Grow Healthier Hair
Nobody says no to hair with more luster and bounce to it! As I mentioned above, a headstand naturally draws more blood to your head.
All of our body systems work much better when they have better circulation, and your hair follicles are no exception.
Stimulating the circulation in your scalp stimulates hair growth and if you’ve been trying to grow out that awful cut you got months ago, add some headstands into your yoga practice!
#5 Relieves Stress and Tension
Have you ever escaped your stress, even momentarily, just through pure distraction?
Whether you are binging on Netflix or indulging in a few cocktails, sometimes all you need is to take your mind off of what’s stressing you out. I don’t know about you, but when I’m in a headstand the absolute last thing on my mind is anything other than what I’m doing.
It takes dedicated concentration to keep your body upright when your head is upside down. In those moments I’m fortunately not stressing about a deadline at work or a party I really don’t want to attend.
#6 Improves Overall Digestion
Sorry, but we need to talk a little more about your circulation and blood flow!
Unless you eat a wholesome diet filled with plenty of fiber and green vegetables, chances are your digestive system sometimes gets a bit sluggish.
Flip it upside down though, and you’ll give it a swift kick in the rear (no pun intended) to get moving. Your digestive tract works with gravity and once you swallow your food, everything is all downhill from there.
This can make your intestines lazy over time because gravity is doing most of the intensive work. However, when you do a headstand, your intestines have to work a little harder to keep moving things down when gravity is no longer in their favor. (4)
#7 Prevents Varicose Veins
Fifteen years ago I fully believed that varicose veins only affected women my grandma’s age. Now that I’m creeping up on 30, my naivety is quickly diminishing and I realize I could get them any day now.
If you’ve had swollen feet from pregnancy, airplane travel, or an injury, the first thing your doctor will tell you is to put your feet up.
When you elevate your feet above your heart, the fluid and blood is drained from your feet, then it perfuses through the rest of your body. People who are constantly on their feet, or sit at a desk most of the day, often have more blood and fluid pooling in their feet.
Going into an inversion pose drains all the fluid from your extremities, preventing the development of varicose veins.
#8 Boosts Your Complexion
Our faces definitely don’t get as much circulation as other parts of our body, and when cells don’t get a good supply of fresh blood, their turnover rate decreases.
It’s no secret that a poor cell turnover on your face results in a dull complexion. If you want to get a healthier glow without the expensive products, grab your mat and get your headstand poses on!
#9 Improves Heart Function
Inversions will majorly reduce the strain on your heart because deoxygenated blood flows more easily from the heart’s extremities.
This means that you’ll reduce strain and pressure from parts of your heart that have to work harder.
#10 Improves Shoulder and Arm Strength
If lifting weights isn’t your jam, but you’re longing for better arm and shoulder strength, you can’t go wrong with an inversion.
Despite being called a “headstand”, your head does very little work in this pose, because your shoulders and arms are constantly engaged while they support your body’s weight.
Prepping for Headstand
It might be the “easiest” of all the inversions, but that doesn’t mean you should just jump into it without the proper preparation.
A headstand is considered advanced yoga, so it’s important to build yourself up to the pose, otherwise you might sustain some nasty and inconvenient injuries.
First, who shouldn’t invert?
- Pregnant women
- People with high blood pressure
- People with congestive heart failure
- People with glaucoma or a history of detached retinas
These poses are incredibly easy to integrate into your daily practice, and if you’re going to teacher-led classes, you’re probably already doing these regularly.
Remember you need to practice routinely to reach your end goal, and rushing into an advanced inversion is never worth risking an injury.
- Dolphin pose: If you’ve had to hold dolphin pose for more than a couple of breaths, you’ve probably felt your shoulders screaming. There really isn’t a better pose for getting your shoulders strong enough to do the work of headstand.
- Plank: Plank isn’t just about core work, folks. This pose will make your shoulders and back much stronger too!
- Forearm plank: Another pose to get your shoulders screaming? You betcha! This pose works your shoulders while strengthening your back, biceps, and your core.
The Do’s and Don’ts of the Headstand
A sloppy headstand is a surefire way to injure the delicate disks in your neck and upper back. It’s important that you follow these tips to keep your cervical spine safe.
- Learn where you should rest the top of your head. Sitting upright, place a block on the top of your head. Where the block stays balanced is the place where your head should rest on your mat.
- Think shoulders up and away from your ears to keep from collapsing onto your neck.
- Press into your forearms, reminding yourself every few breaths to push into the mat. Your head should be resting on the ground, and it helps if you imagine there's just enough space to slip a piece of paper between your head and the mat.
- Use a wall. Having the support of the wall until you have the strength to balance without it does a great job protecting your neck.
- Don’t dump the weight into your head. Your head should rest on the mat, not press.
- Don't kick into headstand. This puts too much weight on your neck.
- Don't practice headstands when your muscles, especially your shoulder aren't warm! “Cold” muscles keep you from using the necessary upper body muscles which keep you upright.
Beginner-Friendly YouTube Videos to get you started with Headstands
Not quite sure where to begin but you’re hankering to get upside down? These YouTube videos will steadily guide you through prep poses and tips for safe alignments that protect your neck.
Done safely and regularly, headstands offer a host of benefits.
Not only is the pose a fun party trick and the gateway to more advanced inversions, but you’ll come to view the headstand like you do your favorite blanket: cozy, familiar, and comforting.
Don’t worry about the aesthetic of it, because it can take years to be able to balance in the middle of the room for more than a few seconds.
Instead, focus on the wonderful things it does for your body and mind, and you’ll reap the benefits tenfold.