It’s definitely winter for Southern California right now! The past few years have had us enjoying 70s and sunshine through December and January, but with El Nino visiting this year, we have gotten a lot more rain, and a lot more uncharacteristic cold. For me, that’s meant a lot less movement and time spent outdoors. My immune system has been feeling it, taking a big hit recently. I lost my voice last week, while still struggling with a bit of a sore throat, my energy levels have dropped, and I’ve developed some nice dark circles under my eyes. OYE!
One of the ways I’ve always given myself a good reboot is to add more headstands into my daily life. Only problem is: my neck doesn’t like headstand. Like a lot of people who spend or have spent a lot of time in front of a computer screen, I have what some might call “upper cross syndrome”, ie: flattening of the lower cervical spine and hyper extension of the upper cervical spine, where the head is moved forward, usually accompanied by some extra rounding of the upper back/thoracic spine.
What this means is that it is NOT a good idea for me to be weight bearing on my neck. So no headstand… And while I COULD technically work myself up to hold handstands for excessive periods of time to get a similar effect, I have a better way to get the wonderful effects of the big inversion!
Headstand on two chairs!
There is no pressure on my neck. In fact, I get INCREDIBLE traction for my neck, taking a lot of pressure of any compressed nerves in my cervical spine. I get plenty of blood flow to my head and all in all a few minutes a day has me feeling super rejuvenated! You don’t need fancy equipment (I’ve seen devices made that cost upwards of $100+ that do something similar). I do have padded chairs that I often use (that cost $18 each), but as you can see, all I did here was grab two chairs from our kitchen and two cushions from our couch and vwalla! I’ve got some nice cushy support for my shoulders, my head is off the floor, no pressure on my neck, and I can hold this for as long as it seems appropriate. I have my back to the wall, just so I don’t have to worry as much about stability.
I sometimes give this pose (with the chairs) to students who have been experiencing neck pain as well. The traction on the neck, with the shoulders pinned by the chairs, is INCREDIBLE and can often lead to a greater range of motion for the neck as well as a reduction in nerve related pain coming from the cervical spine.
Despite their importance in traditional posture based yoga and the many raves about their benefits, from a scientific perspective, there isn’t a ton of evidence as to the specific effects of headstands and inversions. A small swedish study in 2013 found an increase in heart rate variability, which is a sign of a healthy heart, as well as a “subsequent restorative effect on the automatic nervous system”. Other studies have been done about inversions and disc health, but we are still lacking in studies on the effects of headstands and what they do for the body. We do have centuries of anecdotal evidence, however.
Some of the assumed benefits of headstands:
- Better circulation. With the heart working hard all day to pump blood flow up to your brain as well as back up from the feet, headstand is said to give the heart a rest and reduce unnecessary strain. So while the heart rate drops during a headstand, it’s helping the the heart rest so that it has plenty of pumping power for later.
- Blood and fluid that can get stuck down in the feet (edema), find an easier path back to the heart, which can help with varicose veins.
- It’s said to help flush fresh blood and nutrients into the face, helping with radiant, glowing skin!
- Flushes the adrenal glands, which could potentially help with stress.
- Provides more blood to the pituitary and hypothalamus glands.
- Stress relief! A few minutes up in a headstand and you are likely to notice the almost immediate different in your stress levels.
- Greater focus. With all the extra blood flow to the brain, headstands can be very helpful in increasing short term focus. If I am writing late at night and tired, I will often invert to help wake me up, clear my mind, and sharpen my focus!
As I integrate this modified headstand into my daily routine over the next couple of weeks, I’m going to test my heart rate with my FitBit Charge HR and see how much my heart rate drops during each session. I’ll post a follow up blog with the results!
I’d love to hear about some of your experiences with headstand or this modified headstand in the comments below!