Instagram has long been filled with fitness crazes, from urban parkour to HIIT workouts and even the chair challenge – a feat of core strength that involves climbing under and over a chair without once touching the floor. Not to be outdone, celebrities are embarking on a new craze – taking photographs of themselves upside down in headstands and handstands, with everyone from 70-year-old Dragon Duncan Bannatyne to TV presenter Fearne Cotton getting involved.
Otherwise known as inversions, headstands and handstands are a key part of advanced yoga practice, but when performed incorrectly they can have damaging consequences, up to and including causing a stroke.“Instagram is full of peak-level poses,” says Anna Taylor, a yoga teacher. “Something like a headstand really needs to be built up to, so you’re not crushing your shoulders. It might not be one for office workers who have bad back alignment.”
In order to perform a headstand, your core strength needs to be built up through poses including the plank, dolphin plank (where you keep your forearms on the floor) and downward dog poses, according to yoga teacher Sarah Scharf. “For a complete beginner, it might take anything up to six months to build your strength properly with other poses,” she says. “Then, when you feel ready, I would start with a handstand against a wall, or using props that take the weight off your neck. Always make sure you’re practising with an experienced friend or instructor.”
When you are ready for a headstand, make sure your back is straight, your elbows are aligned with your shoulders, your forearms angled behind your head and your fingers interlaced around the back of your neck, says Adam Hocke, a yoga teacher. “There’s a real meditative focus to achieving the headstand,” he says. “It gives you a new perspective and it is calming to have the heart above the head.” Hocke cautions against kicking up into the pose too forcefully and placing too much weight directly on to the neck.
“These celebrity poses are a great way to get people into yoga,” Hocke says. “But I wish more accounts would show the basic poses and work that goes into achieving these inversions. You can get the same effect just by bringing your legs up against a wall. Anyone can do it and it shows that the hardest poses aren’t always the most beneficial.”