Come to any of my yoga classes and you’ll be surprised how much of my life I choose to spend upside down.
Whether online, which is my preferred way to teach at the moment, or back in those far-off, pre-pandemic days when we all gathered in a studio or church hall, one thing has remained unchanged: you are likely to spend a sizeable chunk of time looking at the world from the other way up.
Upside down — or head below heart, as I prefer to call it — is a wonderful way to ‘hang out’. I couldn’t imagine a day without spending at least two minutes in my blissful, topsy-turvy world.
And the message seems to be catching on: the evidence is there for all to see.
Julie Montagu, Viscountess Hinchingbrooke, teaches yoga and says having your head below your heart can bring a rich dose of oxygenated blood to the head
Last week it was Holly Willoughby who posted pictures of herself at an outdoor yoga studio, suspended from the rafters in an ‘inverted butterfly’ pose during an aerial yoga session.
The 40-year-old TV presenter was doing it to promote her new women’s lifestyle website, Wylde Moon, but she’s in good company. There have been many before her, including Elizabeth Hurley, Gwyneth Paltrow, Millie Mackintosh and Geri Halliwell, channelling their ‘inner bat’ — and getting a good picture to share on social media.
Aerial yoga differs from traditional yoga in that instead of performing poses on a mat, participants use silk hammocks or slings to support themselves. Either way, the principle and health benefits — both mental and physical — are the same.
Head below heart provides a wonderful dose of rich, oxygenated blood heading straight to the head, plus a stretch of the spine and shoulders, which leaves you feeling as if you’re walking on air.
In fact, ask any of my four children or the cameramen I’ve worked with over the years, and they know that I have been banging on about this for more than a decade.
Holly Willoughby in an inverted butterfly yoga position, which is said to boost circulation, promote healing and detoxify tissue, as well as decompress the spine
Yoga came to my rescue shortly after the birth of my fourth child, when I was finding life overwhelming. I rented a church hall near our second home in South-West London, and was soon teaching 24 yoga classes a week.
Of course, this all moved online during lockdown, when up to 300 people at a time would join a class from their own front rooms and patios.
Yoga is all about movement, but also about breath. We take control of our body, which always breathes for us, second after second, minute after minute. Controlling our breath gives us an opportunity to breathe deeper, ideally from the belly, to inhale and exhale longer and give our blood an almighty injection of oxygen.
Put this together with a forward fold — the simplest of yoga moves, where you literally fold in half from the waist and hang your head gently upside down, between your knees, for a few breaths — or a full unsupported headstand, or being suspended from the ceiling, and there are so many benefits for the head.
Personally, I feel the head is a hugely overlooked body part when it comes to exercise and well-being.
It does so much for us and the poor thing is always on top and never gets a proper break, as our legs do when we flop on the sofa or lie down to sleep. Hanging your head below your heart is the equivalent of putting your feet up after a long day, and we all know how good that feels.
There are no strict rules as to how you do it. I always tell my students and my children to do it for a minimum of two minutes a day, but ideally any time you feel stressed, tired, or your head and/or back hurts. Just drop and hang. Oh, and don’t forget to breathe — that controlled breath.
Not only does getting a good dose of oxygenated blood to the head help nurture the brain, but I always think of it as a free facial, too, as blood pours into the face, plumping and enriching it.
Julie Montagu, pictured, says being upside down and allowing blood to rush to you head is the equivalent of putting your feet up after a long day
It feels like an internal massage of the face: you can actually feel the blood flow moving around your shoulders, neck, head and face. It’s wonderful.
Plus, at the same time, you are creating space between your vertebrae. All day long with the head on top, the spine has no choice but to feel a little compressed. When we go upside down it begins to elongate again, making space between each back bone. You know the saying: healthy spine, healthy life — in which I’m a big believer.
And lastly, when you come up again, everything feels a bit lighter. Perhaps, like me, you find you have more space between your thoughts. Life doesn’t feel so heavy or chaotic and you can carry on with your meeting, difficult conversation or to-do list with more clarity.
Try it today — just two minutes — and I promise you, you’ll never see life the same way again.