April 17, 2014

How Dharma Bums Turned Me on My Head. ~ Ashleigh Hitchcock

upside down

I became intrigued by headstands after reading Dharma Bums, by Jack Kerouac.

In this book, the main character, Ray Smith, has a daily headstand practice in order to prevent arthritis.

I am an impressionable reader, but is there any truth to this theory?

Bats and possums never get arthritis, because they hang upside down for the majority of their lives. Human beings are normally upright creatures, yet being upside down, for even a few minutes a day, has extraordinary benefits.

Yoga inversions, any asana where the head is below the heart, are good for slowing us down and altering our perception. Inversions are great for increasing circulation, building confidence, strengthening our immune system, building core strength and improving balance.

These are all good things.

The tantric school of yoga believes that the nectar of immortality is housed in the crown chakra. So, theoretically, standing on our head, retains this nectar.

Science explains the benefits of inversions as upending ones relationship with gravity. Inversions keep the spine strong and aligned.

Four major systems in our bodies benefit from inversions:

1. Circulatory system: Venous return improves during a headstand. This gives our heart a break. Inversions also lower blood pressure.

2. Nervous system: Inversions effect movement of spinal fluid. When we come down from headstand, we feel clearer and calmer. Headstand slows the brainwaves and promote a yogic mind. It is also good for concentration.

3. Endocrine system: Inversions have been touted as improving the efficiency of the thyroid and parathyroid glands, which regulate our metabolism.

4. Lymphatic system: The lymphatic system is responsible for immune response because it removes waste and maintains fluid balance. It is a closed pressure system with one-way valves. When we turn upside down, the lymph system is stimulated and immunity is improved. A strengthened immune system wards off age related degeneration. Voila! Headstands prevent arthritis.

The practice of inverted asanas purges the body of its impurities, bringing strength, firmness, calm, and clarity of mind.” ~ BKS Iyengar

Headstand engages lots of our muscles. Arms, shoulders, abs, legs. And it makes us smile. I feel super proud when I do headstand. It changes my whole day for the better.

Headstand increases intuition. It’s always good to check in with our body first, before deciding what inversion is best for us.

Disclaimer: Headstand isn’t for everyone. It should be avoided by anyone with herniated disks, retinal bleeding, glaucoma, or high blood pressure.

If headstand is not a good fit, many other inversions can be substituted. Other suitable inversions include shoulder stand, forearm balance, plow, legs up the wall or happy baby.

Here is the prescription Ray Smith learned from a hobo in Dharma Bums.

Just stand on your head three minutes a day, or mebbe five minutes. Every morning, when I get up whether it’s in a riverbottom or right on a train that’s rollin’ along, I put a little mat on the floor and I stand on my head and count to five hundred, that’s about three minutes isn’t it?”

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Editor: Jenna Penielle Lyons

Photo: Used with permission/ Andrew Wyatt



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