Sirsasana: Can You Bleed From the Headstand?
A reader sent in the following question:
“I was wondering if you had any info on western medicine’s take on prolonged headstands? I’ve heard claims that the western medical opinion is that one would start bleeding after a couple minutes…”
There’s little need to worry. Doctors don’t tell kids not to hang upside down on the monkey bars, and in the vast majority of healthy adults there’s no reason to believe that sirsasana would cause bleeding.
The only way it could potentially be a problem is if there is an underlying issue like a cerebral aneurysm, a rare balloon-like weakness in a blood vessel wall. If one is there, it can blow at any time, but conditions that increase the pressure in your head are more likely to cause it to rupture. We once had a patient in the ER whose aneurysm ruptured with an orgasm. So really, if you are unfortunate enough to have an aneursym, and most people don’t know if they do until it’s too late, anything strenuous or exciting at all can make it bleed.
I’d also use caution if there is high blood pressure that’s not adequately controlled. It could potentially be a problem, although there is no direct evidence. With chronic uncontrolled high blood pressures, the blood vessel walls are diseased and weakened – at times they break open, causing a hemorrhagic stroke. If they are weak and about to blow, increasing the pressure in your head is not a good idea. Healthy young blood vessel walls without any damage from high blood pressure will not bleed simply because you stand on your head for awhile.
The only thing I’ve seen in the Western literature about the increased intra-cranial pressure from headstands is an acceleration of glaucoma, which is elevated pressure in the eye causing damage to the optic nerve. If you stand on your head for a long time, it increases that already elevated pressure and causes the disease to progress faster. Anyone over 40 or with a family history of glaucoma should see an eye doctor to get a screening test before practicing sirsasana.
The biggest problem with headstand is the pressure on the cervical spine. Those bones aren’t used to carrying that much weight in that direction. Not sure the benefits are the same with the use of traction, but it makes sense from a mechanical standpoint. If you don’t have any neck problems and you’re young, then it’s probably not a big issue so long as you listen to your body and stop when your neck hurts as that is an indicator of underlying damage.