The headrest stool - an overview

Again and again I receive exciting questions from the yoga teachers of the different yoga styles. Who should, may and can use the headstand stool and why? It seems that despite the establishment of this tool in the scene, there is still uncertainty when it comes to the therapeutic context. Whoever has no problems with the headstand can also safely use the headstand stool, that much is clear. But is it also safer or more gentle and if so, for whom and which part of the body?

For many practitioners, especially as they get older and if they have not practiced accordingly before, headstands on the mat become a problem. Far too many have suffered acute or permanent damage when trying to perform it. The problems involved are well known. The headstand stool takes the pressure away from the skull and cervical spine and shifts it to the shoulder-neck region, mainly to the muscles with pressure on the shoulder blades beyond that. However, the following problems can also lead to the fact that it is better for the practitioner to refrain from using such a stool:

  1. Gefäße: Durch die Umkehrhaltung des Kopfstandes kommt es mit der Schwerkraft zu einem hohen Rückfluss des Blutes aus dem Rumpf und unteren Extremitäten zum Herzen und zum Kopf. Die arterielle Durchblutung des Kopfes muss möglichst schnell gedrosselt werden, da es im begrenzten Raum des Schädels sonst zur Kompression des Gehirns kommen würde. Nicht vergessen sollten wir den Platzbedarf im Kopf durch den venösen Rückstrom der nicht über Klappen verfügenden Halsvenen. Auf dieser Ebene ist der Kopfstand also ebenso anspruchsvoll wie ohne Hocker. Wir müssen bei den Übenden ein reagibles Gefäßsystem annehmen dürfen – dass braucht mit zunehmendem Alter eine gute Ernährung und regelmäßiges Training. 

  2. Heart: Of all the reversal postures, the return flow of blood to the heart is greatest and fastest in the headstand. In this respect, too, there is no significant difference to the classic headstand. We must therefore expect a strong heart with a regular rhythm. Since less strength is needed on the headstand stool, some practitioners remain in the inversion for longer, which demands a higher endurance capacity of the heart. If the heart and vascular system are not well trained, it can easily lead to the formation of clots and embolisms or to overstraining of the heart (acute heart failure).
  3. Adiposity: Fatty tissue is supplied with blood. Because many yoga teachers focus on relieving the cervical spine when using a headrest stool, they believe that people who are overweight can also practice headstands on a stool (because the strain on the cervical spine is relieved). The latter is true, but fatty tissue is supplied with blood and overweight is often accompanied by a reduction in the load on the cardiovascular system as people get older. High blood pressure with or without medication, reduction in cardiac output, diabetes with cardiac neuropathy, etc. are the frequent consequences. Since overweight people exercise with even more blood flowing to the heart and in the direction of the skull than normal weight people and the regulation is almost always reduced by the sometimes more times less obvious accompanying diseases, I can only advise against the use of the headrest stool.
  4. Stability: Without the necessary torso stability, the headstand remains a game of risk even when seated. It is not uncommon for practitioners to fall over in and with the stool, sometimes with serious consequences, lose their balance without falling over, which then only leads to strains and less serious injuries, or experience dizziness, impaired balance or difficulty finding words as soon as they come out of the stool. This is also potentially unfavourable.
  5. Pressure: The pressure in the headstand stool is transmitted via the shoulder-neck muscles and the arms have to balance the posture for untrained people. Occasionally, practitioners find this pressure uncomfortable. In addition, the cervical spine cannot be completely relaxed as wrongly assumed, the basic tone of the muscles remains. Compared to the inverted dangling from a bar (hung with the backs of the knees) or inverted tables, there is a much higher tension in the cervical-neck muscles, so that the effect on the cervical discs in the stool - in terms of traction - can be practiced much more effectively in a different way.

In summary: Be careful with whom you practice. There's often a person hanging from the cervical spine. It is honourable to relieve the latter, but to endanger the rest of it is not sensible because of the serious damage possibilities.