1. Increased oxygen to the brain
The force that brings us down!
But by flipping upside down it means gravity can help draw oxygenated blood into areas that rarely receive a flushing, such as the brain, where our “thinking self" resides.
And more oxygen is where it's at - it’s our vital life-force.
In a nutshell, we get a burst of energy that can help with our mood, motivation and focus, relieving depression, combating anxiety, inducing present moment awareness and improving mental functioning.
2. Improved core strength
One of the greatest physical benefits of headstand practice is that it strengthens our core - if you’re doing it properly that is!
In order to lift up (against gravity), breathe and hold we need to have core stability - activation of the abdominals (rectus, transverse and obliques), some back muscles (multidus, quadratus lumbar, latissimus dorsi, trapezius), as well as the diaphragm and the pelvic floor (and glutes) engaged.
The key is to continue the ujjai breath whilst in the pose so these muscles need to work by remaining activated but be flexible enough to incorporate deep, rhythmic breathing too
3. Lymphatic system boost
Inversions stimulate our lymphatic system, which is responsible for getting rid of toxins and waste products that the body no longer needs. It is essentially our natural detoxification process.
The tensing and relaxing of muscles during yoga wrings out the bodily tissues and forces fluid into the lymph channels, where it then heads to our lymph nodes for any nasties to be cleaned.
In headstand, we reverse the effect of gravity, draining lymph and used blood from the legs, and through activation of the supporting muscles help relieve lymphatic congestion.
4. Mental clarity
By increasing blood flow to the mind we increase the energy within it. This mental boost helps us gain clarity and resolve those problmes that have been on our minds.
Dr. Karen Koffler, director of Integrative Medicine at Northwestern University, says inversion therapy boosts brain health by increasing blood flow. “If there is increased blood flow to the area, there will be increased bio availability of oxygen and glucose, the two most important metabolic substrates for the brain,” .
5. Hormone and sleep regulation
Modern day medicine has shone a light on the inner workings of our skull, and by standing on our head we increase activity to the pituitary and pineal glands. By stimulating the pea sized pituitary gland (controlled by the hypothalamus part of our brain) we are helping regulate:-
The hormones produced for growth
Aspects of pregnancy, childbirth and nursing
Water/salt concentration in the kidneys
The pineal gland produces melatonin which helps regulate the human sleep-wake cycle known as the circadian rhythm. Both are part of the endocrine system, which controls all the hormones necessary for normal growth and development, reproduction, and maintaining bodily functions (homeostasis).
6. Enhance posture
During headstand we are simply standing tall, upside down. Therefore this posture aligns our spine and by asking us to stack our hips over shoulders it allows us to work on posture, find neutral buoyancy in our pelvis, develop more balance and refine our awareness of our skeletal structure.
7. Activate the sympathetic nervous system
Our spine and endocrine system work synonymously with our central nervous system, the micro communication network that controls the whole body.
Headstand activates our sympathetic nervous system, therefore stimulating our desire for “fight or flight”. This added, controlled amount of stress prepares the body for action through arousal and alertness and allows us to feel the extra energy by the release of hormones such as dopamine and norepinephrine.
8. Healthy heart
An alternative to a run, headstand invigorates us by stimulating the cardiovascular system, which moves and distributes oxygenated and deoxygenated blood around our body. It does this via blood vessels and the lungs and heart (these combined with the lymphatic system are known as our circulatory system).
Extra exertion helps pump the blood round with more efficiency and promotes a healthy heart.
9. Warm and detoxify the body
A headstand is heating for our bodies and improves blood circulation. This results in more oxygenated blood within the body and the removal of toxins. This is most apparent in the upper lungs, the face, scalp and the lower torso housing the digestive organs, notably the intestines.
A natural way to cultivate hair, respiratory, skin and digestive health and wellbeing!
10. Change perspective
Don’t be afraid to play! By facing our fears about headstands, we are really pushing the boundaries of our comfort zone and once we come down, we can see things from a different perspective.
Things never get boring once you have nailed this pose and the sky'sthe limit with your yoga headstand progression as there are many variations - supported, tripod, no hands, eagle or lotus legs, transitions and flows.
Master that headstand
An approach of Ahimsa (non-violence or compassion) is advocated when attempting any pose or sequence in yoga and headstand is no exception.
The breath is the guiding force and the posture is required to be steady and pleasant, with a smooth, mindful manoeuvring in and out, so if there are wobbles or weaknesses, keep working with preparatory poses first.
If you have any neck issues think carefully before transitioning into this posture, where the majority of your body weight will be positioned on your head and delicate neck area.
Consider the foundations of the pose and how your body should be positioned
Be warmed up, tuned into breath and body awareness
Enter into it at an appropriate place in your practice - inversions are practiced in mid-end section timing, once the body is warm and has been opened considerably, with time to bring the energy down afterwards
Should you feel any discomfort come out of it immediately
Despite the benefits of headstands in yoga, it is not for everyone