What you need to know before you try a headstand


Many yoga practitioners tout the potential health benefits of the headstand, saying the pose clears the mind, energizes the body, and improves blood flow to the brain.

Also known as Sirsasana, the headstand has a legion of celebrity fans: in a 2020 interview, Paul McCartney gushed about doing headstands to finish his workout at the then ripe age of 78, and Dua Lipa capped a recent Vogue Interview with one in front of the camera.

However, experts say you shouldn’t just attempt it on your own, as a headstand can be medically risky for some people.

According to research, when you do a headstand, your head must support 40 to 48 percent of your body weight.

“When you do a headstand, blood flow from the legs back to the head, which can lead to neurological disorders including stroke,” says Robert Saper, a physician who directs the Division of Wellness and Preventive Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic. Saper is also a certified yoga teacher.

“Dangers include significant pressure on the spine and neck,” adds Saper. “If there is degeneration of a disc, doing a headstand can make it worse.”

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Stay flexible and healthy into old age

Those with osteoporosis — which could cause a bone fracture — or “poorly controlled blood pressure” are also not good candidates for the headstand, Saper says. Patients with glaucoma, which causes high pressure in the eye that can lead to blindness, should also avoid the practice. One study confirmed that headstand causes a two-fold increase in intraocular pressure, which can further damage the optic nerve.

“Also, a headstand is not a good idea if someone is on anticoagulants,” says Timothy McCall, internist and author of Yoga as Medicine: The Yogic Prescription for Health and Healing. And: “A headstand is not a good idea for someone with neck arthritis.”

But what if your doctor gives you a clean bill of health and you don’t have any problematic conditions — and you want to try learning the technique?

First and most importantly, find a qualified, professional yoga teacher and start slow.

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

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Who meets the criteria of a qualified instructor? “There is no universal certification system in yoga, although Iyengar certifies yoga teachers,” says McCall. “Choose an experienced instructor as well as an instructor who is knowledgeable about pose observation.”

This is key because your instructor should fully evaluate you, including looking at your physical condition.

If you can’t find a therapist, will exercise, meditation or Reiki help?

“This rating doesn’t necessarily depend solely on your yoga experience,” says McCall. “A good natural neck curve is essential for your body to handle different weights so you don’t injure the cervical spine under pressure.”

How long should you hold a headstand? Very quick first – listen to your instructor’s advice and don’t shoot for a set amount of time. Once you feel comfortable, you can gradually build up the duration.

Some practitioners start with a three-point pose where the legs are not raised all the way up.

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“Note, however, that halfway up an L-shape, which is sometimes taught in yoga classes, is more difficult to hold than the full pose,” says McCall. Balancing against a wall and having good support under your head are also important.

“If you go into the pose and it doesn’t feel good, get out of it,” says McCall. An easier goal may be to learn a shoulderstand, which is a less ambitious inversion. Consult with your trainer on this as well – and only do what is right for you.

Headstands aren’t for everyone

The following is a partial list of those to avoid headstands:

  • Pregnant women because of the risk of falling (although McCall notes that pregnant women sometimes continue with an established headstand practice into the third trimester).
  • People who suffer from acute or frequent migraines.
  • People with neck or shoulder problems or osteoporosis.
  • People with high blood pressure because the pose can further increase blood pressure.
  • Those with glaucoma.
  • Anyone with a heart condition.
  • Children up to 7 years.



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