What You Need To Know Before You Try To Stand On Your Head

Many yoga practitioners tout the potential health benefits of standing on your head, saying that the pose cleans the mind, energizes the body, and improves blood flow to the brain.

Also known as Sirsasana, standing on its head has a legion of famous fans: in a 2020 interview, Paul McCartney raved about doing the headstand to finish his training at the mature age of 78, and Dua Lipa ended up Vogue’s final interview by taking one in focus.

But experts say you shouldn’t just try one on your own as standing upside down could be medically risky for some people.

According to research, standing on the head means that the head has to support 40 to 48% of body weight.

“In the upright position, blood flow relates back to the head from the legs, which can cause neurological conditions, including stroke,” said Robert Saper, MD, head of the Cleveland Clinic’s department of health and preventive medicine. Minesweeper is also a certified yoga instructor.

“The threats would include a lot of pressure on the spine and neck,” adds Minesweeper. “If your disc degenerates, standing on your head can make it worse.”

Staying flexible and healthy as you age

People with osteoporosis – which can cause bone fractures – or “poorly controlled blood pressure” are also not good candidates for head-standing, says Minesweeper. Patients with glaucoma, which is associated with high pressure in the eye that can lead to blindness, should also avoid the practice. One study found that when standing on the head, the intraocular pressure doubles, which can further damage the optic nerve.

“Also, if someone is taking anticoagulants, it’s not a good idea to stand on your head,” says Timothy McCall, an internist and author of Joga as Medicine: The Yogic Prescription for Health and Healing. And “standing on your head is not a good idea for someone with neck inflammation.”

But what if your doctor gives you a clean sheet of health and you don’t have any problematic medical conditions – and you want to try learning this technique?

First of all, find a qualified, professional yoga instructor and start slowly.

“Headstand should only be performed under direct supervision and only by people who have developed the necessary strength in the torso and upper body,” says Michael L. Lipton, a neuroradiologist who serves as medical director of MRI services at Montefiore Health System in New York.

Who is the Qualified Instructor? “There is no general certification system in yoga, although Iyengar Yoga certifies teachers,” says McCall. “Choose an experienced instructor as well as an instructor who can observe the poses.”

This is crucial because the instructor should evaluate you completely, including looking at your physical condition.

Will exercise, meditation or Reiki help if you can’t find a therapist?

“This assessment does not necessarily depend on your yoga experience,” says McCall. “A good natural curve of the neck is essential to make sure that your body can support different weights so as not to damage your cervical spine under pressure.”

How long should you keep your head on your head? Very briefly at first – listen to the instructor’s advice and do not shoot for a certain amount of time. If you feel comfortable, you can gradually increase the duration.

Some practitioners start out with a three-point posture that doesn’t involve lifting their legs up.

“But be aware that half-height L-grip, as sometimes taught in yoga classes, is more difficult than full-body posture,” says McCall. Equally important is balancing against the wall and good support under your head.

“If you take the pose and you don’t feel well, step out of it,” says McCall. An easier goal might be to learn to shoulder stand, which is a less ambitious inverted pose. Consult your instructor about this – and only do what’s best for you.

Head stalls are not for everyone

Below is a partial list of people who should avoid standing on their head:

  • Pregnant women, due to the risk of falling (although McCall notes that pregnant women with established practice of standing on their heads sometimes continue to work in the third trimester).
  • People who suffer from acute or frequent migraines.
  • People with neck or shoulder conditions or osteoporosis.
  • People with hypertension because the pose can raise blood pressure even more.
  • Those with glaucoma.
  • Anyone with heart disease.
  • Children 7 years of age or younger.

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