8 Reasons to Practice Headstand (Salamba Shirshasana)

Last week I attended a really great yoga class. I had gone expecting to do a Vinyasa class but it turned out that particular class was canceled. Instead, I decided to take the hatha yoga class that was running at the same time. I am really happy it turned out this way as it was one of the most enjoyable classes I have experienced.

The class was very small, only five people, and I felt like I was getting one on one attention. Also because the class was so small we were able to practice inversions, in particular headstand and handstand. In a larger class you don’t often get to practice these poses as it is often multilevel and it is difficult for the instructor to monitor everyone and provide enough attention to each individual in order to practice these postures safely.

Besides being really great for you, there is something incredibly fun about inversions. Today we’ll look at some of the benefits of headstand, and what makes it the King of Poses:

1. Increases Stamina and Strength and Promotes Good Posture
Headstand builds strength in the neck and shoulders as well as the abdominals and upper spine.

2. Improves Cardiovascular Functioning
Inversions reduce strain on the heart which normally works against gravity. While in headstand de-oxygenated blood is able to flow more easily from the extremities to the heart.

3. Strengthens and Massages the Lungs
Due to gravity, the lower parts of the lungs receive more fluids which cause the tissue in the lower lungs to be more condensed. As a result, when we inhale air moves more freely to the upper part of the lungs. When we invert, blood moves to the upper part of the lungs facilitating a more efficient oxygen-blood exchange. Also, the weight of the internal organs massages the lungs increasing vital capacity as the lungs learn to breathe against the added weight.

4. Stimulates the Digestive System
Headstand increases digestive fire boosting energy and increasing body heat. Internal organs, particularly the intestines, are cleansed by reversing the pull of gravity and releasing congested blood in the colon.

5. Improves Concentration and Balance
In headstand, fresh oxygenated blood flows more freely from the heart to the brain. The brain receives a greater amount of blood than normal for a fixed period of time.  This helps rejuvenate the neurons and guard against atrophy. People often report a sense of clarity after doing headstand.

6. Stimulates the Endocrine System
Practicing headstand stimulates the pineal and pituitary glands which are important in regulating cell metabolism.

7. Calming Effect — Helps Cultivate Emotional Stability
A couple of years ago when I was going through a particularly tough time, I would often have the urge to go into headstand. Much to the amusement of my children, this was usually in my mom’s apartment. I always felt better afterwards. Admittedly, it was kind of funny looking and I’m sure the laughter was part of the medicine. However, Yogis have long believed that headstand has a calming effect and helps to stabilize moods and I have found this to be true for me.

8. Strengthens the Immune System
Headstand helps improve the circulation and drainage of lymphatic fluid. The lymphatic system is composed of one-way valves that keep the lymph fluid moving towards the heart. Turning upside down helps to stimulate the entire system and facilitate the movement of lymphatic fluid from the lower extremities.

For safety reasons, I would strongly recommend learning headstand from an experienced teacher who can help and guide you. In the meantime, you will get many of the same benefits by practicing Standing Wide-Legged Forward Bend (Prasarita Padottanasana).

Thank you to Windhorse Yoga for another great yoga class!

10 thoughts on “8 Reasons to Practice Headstand (Salamba Shirshasana)”

  1. Charlotte Bradley

    Hi George,

    That’s a really good question but I’m not sure that I have a simple answer for you. My first thought is that I think it is important that you only stay in the pose for as long as you are comfortable. That is, you are not feeling strained or coming out of alignment and you are able to breathe deeply. This may be a few seconds or a few minutes depending upon where you are in your headstand practice and will vary depending upon how you feel on a given day.

    A recommended length of time (according to Yoga Journal – I’ve linked to the article) is 10 seconds for a beginner while gradually adding 5-10 seconds every few days until you reach 3 minutes. Then you can hold at 3 minutes for a bit and gradually build to 5. Personally, I would estimate my headstand is usually under a minute.

    I don’t think there is any limit to the frequency. In many traditions (such as Sivananda) the headstand is practiced routinely and is part of the core set of asanas. So barring any physical limitations or ailments, I see no reason why you couldn’t practice on a daily basis.

    Hope this helps!

  2. I am 75 years old and have been doing it regularly. at present i have reached 45 minutes which i do regularly. My experience is excellent .I would suggest that the time should be increased very very gradually and regularity is necessary. The health effects are excellent. UTR

    1. Charlotte Bradley

      UTR – Thanks so much for your insight. You are obviously on the right track with headstand – wow! An inspiration. I must get my practice geared up.
      Take care,

  3. Mr. Raheja, do you only do one asana – shirshasana or do you also add other poses? If you take 45 minutes to do just one asana, is there time for anything else? And are you able to hold the pose without any support (the wall, for instance) for 45 minutes at the age of 75? At what age did you start? You are an interesting and inspiring person.

  4. Hi,
    If any1 wants to extend time for headstand.just play some music while u r doing this exercise.concentrate on ur breath and music.its my experience i used do it daily for 10 minuts.

  5. Dear Mr. U T Raheja

    I can’t believe one can do shirshasana for 45 mins. I think you are amazing (I take a bow) if you reached that level. I’ve been practicing this asana against the wall since past couple of weeks. But I couldn’t even reach 45 seconds mark. Any suggestion so that I can concentrate more and prolong my shirshasana?

  6. Mr.Raheja :
    Your initial post was made four years ago, so I am in a serious doubt you will ever see my response, but I have decided to see if a miracle is possible …
    I have been doing the headstand several years and have gradually come to one hour. However, I do not do it every day, but every second. The problem is not the concentration (if that were all I could go on for even longer), but something else. I must say the 1h or longer hold is nothing special, if may think so – it depends only on the technique of your balance. But, there is something that comes AFTER the pose, the discomfort in the neck, no matter how small it is.
    My question to you: how do you release the neck after the pose ??

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