Head over Heels
Posted by Katie Brown, 02-Feb-2021
Turning upside down shifts your perspective, which is so good for us mentally and physically. We caught up with IYTA lecturer, Alex Cogley to chat about headstands!
Q: When did you first start doing headstands and incorporating them into your yoga practice?
First one when I was a kid, but from around 12 onwards I didn’t spend much time on my head again until I was in my mid-twenties when I started doing yoga.
I was taught them as part of the Yoga Synergy courses that were offered in Bondi, and Newtown. Yoga Synergy has a foundation in physiotherapy (both the Directors are physiotherapist), so there was a strong emphasis on safety and the stages to getting into a headstand safely AND coming out properly.
Q: Why you love headstands? And why you do them?
I love the stillness that they bring (but it didn’t initially feel like that, it took practice and patience!). Headstands have many benefits but when I first started doing them I enjoyed the challenge and overcoming my fear of falling out/balancing my body weight on my head… by learning how to get into them properly, and being patience fears are overcome.
Q: Why do you think so many yoga teachers and students don’t do headstands?
Firstly, the neck/head is such a delicate structure there are concerns regarding injuries… you don’t ever fully know your students’ full medical history, they may tell you about their obviously physical conditions, but it is often the emotional and mental tension that causes tension and stress, especially in the head, neck and shoulders… especially in our sedentary society where we are required to sit for prolonged periods and therefore putting additional tension and wear/tear in the neck and shoulders and spine. There are many inversion alternatives that offer the same benefits but are more accessible to students.
Q: What are the key safety points?
This is a long answer and will be addressed in the workshop (Alex is running her headstand workshop for the IYTA in March). It’s more than just not being suitable for students who are pregnant, unmedicated blood pressure, neck injuries, eye issues (detached retina, glaucoma) and some heart conditions…. it’s an individual’s physical, emotion and mental state too…
Q: When do you do your headstand practice? How long do you hold your headstand?
When – well I suggest once you have completed the standing poses, or at the end of the practice… body warmed up, not tired, core engaged. How long – as long as you feel comfortable when starting… and then build to 1min, 2min, 5min, 10min for more… to a point that feels like you’re in Tadasana but on your head!
I only teach headstands as part of a course, or when I know the whole group or individual well – never to new students in my class (or if I’m doing a cover class), as I need to know their bodies, lifestyle / background etc. However, if you are confident with teaching a headstand, and it is suitable for the group or individual then do it, as the benefits are so worthwhile.
Q: Is there any time you don’t do your headstand practice?
Traditionally inversions aren’t practiced in the first three days of a menstrual cycle, due to affecting the flow of blood plus some women’s core are not so strong in this phase, and therefore not so supportive in the inversion. I think due to our lifestyles we need to look at a lot of other issues – prolonged desk work, tension, stress – headstands can help BUT only when a student is able to go into them without tensing all the wrong muscles and potentially putting themselves at risk of injury. Headstands are suitable for all levels of practitioners (apart from complete beginners) however, it is advised that students have some yoga experience of a least 2-3 months. I would recommend that students have body awareness, an open mind, desire to try something new and approach them with a sense of fun. Students should be able to hold Downward Dog, Wide-Legged Forward Bend, Forearm Plank, and Dolphin for a minute each.
Q: Anything else to add?
Headstands are challenging so the ego needs to be left behind and an acceptance of where each individual’s body is at, on that day, in that moment is essential.