The Headstand – a balanced perspective.

14th October 2015 by Matt Joslin GP

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Balancing upside down gives a novel perspective. I like to do this frequently even though my family finds it odd and even embarrassing. For example I have been known to tip up into a headstand whilst out and about on holiday. My daughter then disowns me and extorts heavy financial compensation before she will again admit that we are related. Wall space at home gets commandeered for elbow balance and handstands; there is a tide-mark where sweaty heels have left an impression. Once the tussle with the physical unusualness of the situation settles down I do get moments of reflection. The other day whilst head standing and contemplating the fluff that had accumulated under the sofa that otherwise I would not have seen, I was thinking about how to balance. This refined itself to an awareness of balance in general.

Lots of yoga is about balance. There is the obvious headstand, handstand, elbow balance thing. Initially it’s a struggle to get up and stay up. After time, when the body seems to know what it is doing some stillness may come. But you don’t have to be upside down for balance to come into play. Just standing in Samastitihi requires equanimity. Left side has to equal right side, weight evenly distributed across the toes and the heels with evenness of breathing. Apply this concept to some more challenging one-legged standing postures and awareness has to be balanced between the grounding of the standing leg and the work of the lifted leg.

After spying a bit of Lego and one child’s sock under the sofa from my new vantage point, I thought some more. There is a balance required in any posture, seated, supine, standing or inverted, between the intensity of the muscle work required and the softening and release that allows you to deepen a little. In twists the attention is drawn to the side to which you turn, but this has to be balanced with the release on the other side. These subtleties are particularly important injury prevention. Overworking and overstretching can cause grumbling tendon inflammation, muscle tears or joint pains. The art is to challenge yourself beyond what is cosy and comfortable to the full capabilities of the body yet balancing this with a softening in the intensity.

Taking a look at the practice of yoga as a whole there is balance to be considered here too. I notice there are times when I do more practice and other times when I do less. Life can get in the way of yoga! If I practiced every day for as many hours as I would like to, the impact of yoga on my life could swing in the wrong direction. I have a wife, children, friends, a job, colleagues and many other facets of my life to consider. If I over commit and try to squeeze in as much practice as I can, or I push and try too hard, then friction builds. My coping mechanisms for stress and worry management go out he window and trying to do yoga can become a problem in itself. I notice if I get the balance of practice right then other areas of my life jog along quite nicely.

From a professional point of view, my yoga practice helps me to help my patients. The physcial health benefits aside, it is the mental composure that is one of the benefits that can have the biggest impact. Of all the hundreds of thousands of GP appointments that take place very day in the UK, more than 25% of them have a significant mental health component. Using the balance of yoga and its inherent mindful approach is one tool available to help manage the stresses, anxieties and worries that assault us all.

So I’m nearly ready to come down now from my inverted perspective, but what occurs to me is that I need to turn this balance idea on its head. I am not doing yoga to learn to balance in postures that I practice in class. The lesson of balance that I achieve in my yoga practice is actually something I need to apply more widely in my life. Yoga helps me bring balance to relationships, to the intensity which I do any activity. It teaches equanimity from moment to moment.

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By Matt Joslin GP, Guest blogger

I am proud to be a GP settled in Manchester city centre after having trained and worked in Cambridge, London and Brussels. Being a family doctor is one of the best and most varied jobs. The world with all its problems can walk through my office door and I am invited to collaborate in helping out. In recent years yoga has become an increasingly significant feature of my life. As well as getting me in the best physical shape it has helped me through stresses and depression. I attend several Yoga Manchester classes on a weekly basis. More and more I share my experience of yoga with colleagues and patients. It has become a lifelong friend.


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