Photo: Yoga Journal

Photo: Yoga Journal

I used to do headstands when I was a little girl, the graceless kind where you’d shoot your legs up quickly, hold the pose for maybe a second (maybe) and then flop over with a great thud into the grass. The joy of it (at least for me) was that split second when you could notice all the things in your world — your dog, your kid sister, the mini log cabin your grandparents brought back from Gatlinburg, Tenn. — that were upside down and then right-side up again. No matter how hard you hit the ground on the way back down, you always came out of that pose smiling, either from the momentary shift in point of view, or from all the blood that had just rushed to your head.

Eventually, you get older and stop doing things like headstands, either because you’ve lost your sense of humor, or are getting too stiff and achy to contemplate what it would feel like to hit the ground with a thud like you did when you were small. As a matter of fact, when I started practicing yoga about seven years ago, the headstand was the one thing I avoided like the plague. I had developed some back and neck issues by then and feared that if I went timber like a Redwood in some California forest, that I’d be bedridden for weeks.

What I didn’t realize is that my fears were keeping me from a pose that would actually help my neck and back, not to mention alleviate stress, aid digestion and improve mental clarity.

Last fall, I started an Ashtanga yoga practice with a marvelous teacher who has great instincts about how to get people to twist and turn and stretch beyond their perceived limits. No matter how confident you are in some areas of your life, there is always that one area where the voice of doubt can hold you back. I’ve never been much of an athlete, so I’ve come to find that the hour-and-half-long tangle with my yoga mat a couple of times of week is a lot more about me battling it out with myself than anyone or anything else.

As with anything, what I do on that orange mat is mind over matter. Some days are better than others, but I see progress overall and I’m happy and encouraged by that.

I’ve also started doing headstands again. I started by doing them against a wall, before my instructor nudged me back toward my mat so that I could work toward doing them on my own. I need a little bit of help getting up still, but I’m getting strong enough not only to hold this pose largely by myself, but to hold it for at least 11 breaths and then come down with control. It’s becoming one of my favorite parts of class.

For more on the yoga headstand, please see these links:

Yoga Journal: “Artistry in Action” How one woman rebuilt her headstand practice after realizing it was causing her harm.

Livestrong: “What Are The Benefits of Headstand Yoga?” Headstands take pressure off of your low back, which is a very good thing.

Yoga 108: “The Yoga Headstand” Includes a step-by-step guide to doing a headstand safely.

MindBodyGreen: “Ten Reasons To Do A Headstand Every Day” Headstands are good party tricks!