Turn your practice upside down!
Or: what’s all this about standing on your head then?
Yogis do some odd things. From chanting OM to getting up at getting up at silly-o-clock to practice, we can be an odd bunch. No more so than when we start standing on our heads in yoga inversions – and it turns out that there are a surprising number of different ways to do that!
But there’s method in our madness. There are serious benefits to Yoga inversions where the head is held below the heart. And there’s also quite a bit of misinformation out there about what they are! Check out our list of benefits and myth-busters.
There’s no more blood or oxygen in your head, but…
Your body carefully manages the amount of oxygen in your system, and is extra careful not to dump too much blood into your brain. If you stand upside down, you’ll feel more blood pressure in your head, but you won’t be getting more blood or oxygen in your brain – that’s a Yoga myth.
Alternating this pressure by working upside down, then releasing, and repeating a few times is tremendously good for you. It clears a foggy head and – guaranteed – and gets people smiling. You can see it around the room in a Yoga or Hot Yoga class – if the teacher instructs yoga inversions, the whole mood lifts after. People often start chatting, and they’ll be beaming ear to ear after handstands.
But you need to exercise some caution. If you have neck or shoulder issues then check in carefully with the teacher before standing on your head or doing other Yoga inversions. If you’ve had recent eye surgery, or have a history of eye problems then fluctuating pressures might not be good for your eyes… again, check with your teacher for advice.
Health and immunity
Your body kills lots of bacteria and bugs in the course of a day. All the debris from this has to be collected and removed, and that’s the function of your lymph system, which circulates lymph fluid to get rid of dead bacteria. We circulate our blood with our heart and it keeps circulating even when we’re asleep. But the lymph only moves when we move – squeezing, stretching and breathing in Yoga and Hot Yoga is one of the best ways to get lymph moving. Some of the most effective poses are the ones that turns us upside down – you’ve got it, yoga inversions are great for your immune system function and overall health.
Not feeling very energetic? The simplest inversion is just to rest your legs up on a wall. It’s a very relaxing way to spend 10 minutes – or more, if you doze off…!
Strength, balance and confidence
Soon after we learn to walk as toddler, we learn to put our hands out when we fall. We protect our faces and heads instinctively. So, it takes bravery to start standing upside down on heads or hands, with our faces next to the floor and our arms otherwise occupied!
We’re used to standing upright – we’ve got strength and balance in the upright direction. Turning upside down requires new strength, and new balance. As they develop, the bravery we once needed turns to confidence. And that’s confidence built on ability – ability we created from our new-found strength and balance upside down. It’s a very cool process, and a great feeling.
Loving the journey
It really does feel great to nail a new yoga inversion pose. It does mean that new strength, balance and confidence have developed. And it can take some time, and more than a little determination.
It starts with a little self-enquiry. Why isn’t that yoga inversion happening – which part of me needs development? Does it need more strength, more open-ness and flexibility? How will I cope with feeling a bit nervous? Perhaps most important of all – how can I believe in myself enough to keep working on this?
The whole process is intriguing. Yoga and Hot Yoga really teach us about ourselves anyway, but yoga inversions are just about the most potent ways to learn about the person deep inside.
It’s not just headstands!
You might really not want to go all the way and stand on your head, or hands, or shoulders. Like we’ve already said – some people shouldn’t due to medical concerns (see above). The good news is that you don’t have to. Again – as we noted before – any position with your head below your heart can offer you the benefits of yoga inversions. So, keep working on your forward folds and down dogs… they have more to offer than you might at first think!
The king of all asana
Having said that… let’s talk about headstand, often called the King of All Asana.
Headstand – when mastered and practiced with dedication – is one of the most invigorating and energizing poses in a Yoga or Hot Yoga class. It’s almost like an anti-gravity effect: where the body had to push blood back from the legs when upright, it flows easily back when you’re upside-down. This aid to circulation helps internal organs work efficiently.
Yoga and Hot Yoga theorise a subtle energy called prana. It permeates and supports all things, and in the body, it moves in five ways as different prana vayus. To be upside down is to power up apana (downward/ outward) vayu. At the same time, the Agni or the digestive fire also gets a boost. Things just work better generally.
I’m not going to include a list of instructions for headstand, as you should really learn it under the supervision of a qualified teacher. Yogafurie offers an inversions course – a six- week mini-intensive that will build your knowledge, confidence and skill in headstand and other yoga inversions. Or you can work with other teachers of course: all I will say here is that it pays to build the balance and strength to hold knees to chest first.
If you can maintain this position for ten breaths, with no pressure in the crown of yourhead, then you will find it quite easy to lengthen your legs into a full headstand.
I’m a bit nervous!
Here’s some top tips for building self-belief. As always – the best way to learn is to do, and if you can’t do the whole thing, then there are some practical first steps you can take to start your journey.
Try some visualisation. Perhaps last thing before you go to sleep tonight, imagine yourself in headstand or handstand, or whatever you’re working on. Try to feel like it’s already happening: wherever you’re imagining yourself to be, what are the sounds, smells, temperature, etc in that place?
It’s normal to be nervous of inversions. Don’t feel bad about having these feelings. Get started by going to the wall (maybe right now!): try bunny hops and upright (or upside-down!) half-handstands. In other words, whatever you’re working on, break it down into manageable chunks. Say you are working on headstand – you might use steps similar to these:
Shoulder stretches – maybe for some weeks before you go anywhere near attempting the pose – just to be sure that your arms can comfortable lift over your head.
Down dog and dolphin pose – again, perhaps for weeks – to be certain that you can take some body weight in that shoulder position.
Core strength and stretching – guess what? For as many weeks as necessary! And this to be certain that your trunk is strong and long enough to hold you if you are upside down.
Then and only then! Have a crack at knees to chest, and eventually headstand.
Stop when you’re tired and offer yourself come congratulation. Oh, and don’t try to balance immediately – this could take time.
Consistency is key: repetition and regular practice builds a practice momentum and generates results. And pay careful attention to what you’re telling yourself—if you believe you’re going to succeed then you’ll stick at it, taking everything in small steps.
Having said that – take a maximum of three attempts at any one pose each day. Make sure you warm up well to prepare, run your attempts, and move on. Don’t dwell on failure (other than to understand how you can adapt and improve) and don’t stop when you get some success.
Finally – with any inversion posture, please work with a competent teacher. Again, Yogafurie offers an inversions course – a six-week mini-intensive that will build your knowledge, confidence and skill in headstand and other poses. Click the link for more information and how to get booked in. This course is popular and spaces are limited!