A newly inspired yogi friend gingerly asked me the other day "Can you do headstand?" Now there seems to be a mixed response when headstand is introduced to a yoga class. Either people freak out exclaiming that they could never do that in a million years or they go full pelt into it and often come out feeling worse for wear. Now I have only started incorporating headstand into my practice in the last year or so and I was one of those weeds who was a little frightened by it. Stand on my head? Won't that hurt...a lot? No thanks! However after a good few months of studying the pose and slowly getting my body used to the idea, I can say that without doubt it has good reason to be called the King of the Asanas. It is the greatest feeling to be perfectly balanced upside down and in fact have no weight on your head whatsoever!
There are lots of reasons why inversions are incorporated into our yoga practice. In ayurveda it is said that the bodies impurities lay in our lower abdomen so when we raise our feet above our heads these impurities can drain towards our "Agni" or digestive fire located above the lower abdomen. Circulation is a more apparent reason for our logical western minds. Getting the blood flowing back from the legs to the heart along with any other fluids that need to drain and getting the circulation going in the brain! It also is said to help with the endocrine system, the pituitary, pineal, thyroid and the parathyroid glands that are responsible for our very existence. The spine can be realigned by this posture, vital organs can be repositioned in the body and the whole body can be revitalised and re-energized. My favourite reason for doing this incredible posture however, is to simply get a different perspective on the world. I love that idea! Sometimes if you look at something from another angle, whether it be a problem, a puzzle, a picture or an idea you can often get a whole new inspiration. How about that!
The most important thing about headstand is that it is done with care and control under guidance of a great teacher who can lead you safely in and out of the posture. I have read two articles lately about really long term yoga practitioners who have suffered injury from practising Sirsasana purely because they had rushed in and not set a firm foundation every time. By a firm foundation, I don't just mean that you should get your hands, arms and head in the correct position, you need to have set yourself up with a good solid yoga practice before you venture into upside down world. Your body needs to be strong and relaxed to draw yourself up into headstand and to hold the posture in order to reap the benefits. In my experience the weight should be through the shoulders and the forearms, so that no weight is taken through your very delicate neck (Mine is very delicate!) and a piece of paper could be slipped under the crown of your head.
So I say don't be afraid to stand on your head, but when you do, do it slowly and mindfully every time, listening to your body along the way. And when you get up there, which may take minutes or days or even years, as always, breathe and enjoy the incredible feeling.