The Healing Powers of Yoga Headstands

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After a great conversation over dinner, most friends would send a text message (probably with a smiley face and some other enthusiastic punctuation). Not my friend Mary, no, Mary sends an entire article she ‘whipped up’ as a sort of elaboration and clarification. Enjoy!

Although I’ve been practicing yoga, off and on, for several years, I only figured out the headstand about two years ago. For the longest time, I had a mental block to the king of all asanas. I just didn’t get it. And then one day, with one small adjustment from a sweet as pie teacher named Stacey, I got it. From then on, I had the fever. What was a hobby – doing headstands on the beach, in the park with my friend Dakota and her dog Lucy, in the living room watching movies with my roommate – became a full-fledged practice after attending Agama Yoga in Thailand earlier this year.

Agama is sort of a zoomed-in practice, and we spent quite a bit of time learning about each pose. When discussing sirsasana (headstand, for those not droppin’ Sanskrit words like it ain’t no thing), the teachers were particularly vocal. This pose could do anything. Doing this pose for just eight minutes a day could, quite literally, change you: it could lessen the effect of heavy and crampy periods, it could make one less distracted, it could heal a bevy of emotional & physical illnesses.

Being inverted does work some kind of enchantment on the body. I left Agama even more enthralled with the headstand, but with more of a focus to the practice. Now I do it with my eyes closed, with a limited amount of outside distraction, and I hold the pose for at least five minutes.

The benefits have been nearly immediate. As a single twenty-something, I don’t mind telling you that I can be quite heavily distracted with thoughts of sex. This can be pretty debilitating when I’m trying to stay self-motivated and write, and all I can think about is that guy I dated for a few months in the winter, who did that great thing…  And there, I lost a few precious minutes to the past, and now I’m all antsy. But I’ve found, curiously, that doing sirsasana daily decreases those distractions – my focus is clearer, sharper, and stronger, and my willpower to maintain that focus has increased.

My periods have also gotten shorter, my last clocking three days instead of the usual (for me) seven.  Now it is controversial to do headstands on your period – vedantic tradition very clearly wags its finger at such a thing – but traditional vedantic yoga doesn’t have much to do with females anyway, so what would they really know about periods? Tantric yoga, on the other hand, a more inclusive practice, has no issue with practicing while good ol’ Aunt Flo is in town. Your practice is your own, so decide for yourself, but my body particularly craves inversions when I’m cycling, and feels worlds better for doing them. I also, and this is big news, haven’t had any cramps on my last few periods. I was a big cramper, a lie-in-bed-with-a-heating-pad-for-a-whole-day cramper. Due to the magic of a daily inversion, poof, they’ve disappeared.

But the biggest, most life-altering effect of sirsasana did not present itself to me until about a month ago, when I entered crisis mode. I’ll spare the worldwide web the personal details, but essentially I had my heart broken. Like any other break in the body, I needed some sort of therapy to heal myself. I emailed one of my teachers at Agama, desperately asking her for suggestions. Sublimation is key, she stressed. She suggested that I try sirsasana to amplify detachment, to understand that the things other people do are not within my control, and don’t define me.

So I picked up my practice of sirsasana, which I had dropped for a few days of binging on chocolate, watching crappy movies, and crying into the phone, much like a cheesy Bridget Jones-esque heartbreak montage. I practiced it with double the focus, closing my eyes and trying to envision a diamond at my sahasrara chakra, a clean, sharp, clear diamond forming the doorway to my soul.

It wasn’t wizardry; it didn’t feel like the magic of disappearing cramps. Instead, it felt like medicine – slightly bitter to the taste and not immediate in effect, but ultimately hugely cleansing. After a few days, I was functioning again. I had whole chunks of time where I didn’t think about the pain in my heart, the gaping canyon rift where I had thought was a valley of love and safety. After a little while, I explored that canyon, and found that it wasn’t so scary. And after a little while longer, I was able to forgive.

Which is HUGE, by the way.  Probably the hugest thing, well, ever. If that doesn’t get you upside-down, than there’s really nothing more I can say.

by Mary Mann