What you need to know before trying a handstand

What you need to know before trying a handstand

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 raved about doing headstands to complete his workouts at the ripe old age of 78, and Dua Lipa capped off a recent Vogue interview by performing an on-camera one.

But experts say you shouldn’t try just one, because a handstand can be medically risky for some people.

Performing a headstand means your head has to support up to 40-48% of your body weight, according to research.

“In a headstand, blood flow refers to the head from the legs, which could cause neurological disorders, including stroke,” says Robert Saper, a physician who chairs the department of wellness and preventive medicine. from the Cleveland Clinic. Saper is also a certified yoga instructor.

“The dangers would include significant pressure on the spine and neck,” adds Saper. “If there is disc degeneration, a headstand can make that worse.”

Stay flexible and healthy as you age

Those with osteoporosis — which could cause a bone fracture — or “poorly controlled blood pressure” aren’t good candidates for the headstand either, Saper says. Patients with glaucoma, which involves high pressure in the eye that can lead to blindness, should also avoid this practice. A study has confirmed that there is a double increase in intraocular pressure during a headstand, which can further damage the optic nerve.

“Also, if someone’s on blood thinners, headstands aren’t a good idea,” says Timothy McCall, internist and author of “Yoga as Medicine: The Yogic Prescription for Health and Healing.” And, “a handstand is not a good idea for someone with arthritis in the neck.”

But what if your doctor gives you a clean bill of health and you have no health issues — and you want to try learning the technique?

First and most important, find a qualified and professional yoga instructor and start slow.

“Head presses should only be performed under direct supervision and only by people 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 Montefiore Health System in New York.

Who meets the criteria of a qualified instructor? “There is no overall certification system in yoga, although Iyengar yoga certifies teachers,” McCall says. “Choose an experienced instructor, as well as an instructor who knows how to observe the poses.”

This is essential, as your instructor must fully assess you, including reviewing your fitness.

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

“This assessment doesn’t necessarily depend solely on your yoga experience,” McCall says. “A good natural neck curvature is essential to ensure that your body can support different weights, so that you don’t injure the cervical spine under pressure.”

As for how long to hold a handstand? Very briefly at first – listen to your instructor’s advice and don’t shoot for a set amount of time. If you feel comfortable, you can gradually increase the duration.

Some practitioners start with a three-point position that does not involve fully raising the legs.

“Be aware, however, that halfway up, holding an L-shape, as is sometimes taught in yoga classes, is more difficult than the full pose,” says McCall. Balancing yourself against a wall and having good support under your head is also essential.

“If you get into the pose and you don’t feel good, get out of it,” McCall says. An easier goal may be to learn a shoulder pose, which is a less ambitious inversion pose. Also consult your instructor about this and only do what feels right for you.

Pear trees are not for everyone

Here is a partial list of those who should avoid handstands:

  • Pregnant women, due to the risk of falling (although McCall notes that pregnant people with an established handstand practice sometimes continue into the third trimester).
  • People with acute or frequent migraines.
  • Those with neck or shoulder problems or osteoporosis.
  • People with hypertension, as the pose can further increase blood pressure.
  • Those with glaucoma.
  • Anyone with heart disease.
  • Children 7 years old or younger.


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