When was the last time you stood on your head? I’m assuming this answer will be different for everyone based on their age, level of fitness and how free spirited they are, but I think it’s safe to say that unless you do yoga regularly, most adults would see this activity as a childish thing to do; or a fun party trick. It’s fun to do while we’re growing up, but then as we age we slowly begin to justify why we can’t or won’t do it anymore.
For my autistic son, Ethan, much of his day is spent upside down. He’s been this way since he was an infant. It’s not uncommon at all to walk into a room and see him standing on his head. I used to be concerned about how long he remained in this position, but he knows his limits and he will “come up for air” so to speak when he needs to. That, and he is so determined to master this position UNASSISTED or not propped up on anything, that he tumbles over quite frequently as he tests his center of gravity and equilibrium.
As bizarre as this may sound, I’m starting to believe this action or position regulates him.
I’m no doctor or physical therapist but I have to wonder what kind of effect having all his blood pour into his head has on him. Turns out "A Rush Of Blood to the Head" is far more than just a Coldplay album. A little research uncovered the fact that the benefits of a headstand support my theory of regulation.
The headstand is often referred to as the king of all yoga poses. In Yoga, headstands are aptly classified as an “inversion”, both in the literal sense of inverting your body, and in the spiritual sense of turning your attention inwards. If you’re experiencing any stress, anxiety or fear, try standing on your head while slowly taking long and deep breaths.
Naturally an inverted pose will bring a rush of blood into your head, which means more oxygen and nutrients reach your brain than is typical in a fully upright day. This serves as a sort of mental “reset” button. Your focus and mental function will improve, and partnered with reduced stress, helps to clarify your thoughts.
This flipped process is also said to relax and strengthen the compression of certain blood vessels in the brain. Because headstands stimulate the pituitary gland — which is responsible for releasing endorphins, the body's "happy" hormones — they can be prescribed to alleviate the sadness and lethargy associated with depression.
Standing on your head also helps promote a more rapid flush of toxins from your body. Although not in the brain, headstands squeeze your adrenal glands, reducing the production of cortisol, the stress hormone, while stimulating the production of melatonin, dopamine and serotonin, all hormones that help regulate mood. The cleaner your adrenal glands are, the more optimal they will function. This will help you to adapt to stress better!
Crazy, hey? Who knew!
I’ve caught myself saying many times that the biggest difference with Ethan having autism is that he sees the world differently. He knows how to do everything a typical three year old does, but he does the activities and completes the tasks differently.
The irony is not lost on me that for many years now, even from before we had kids, a saying we’ve had in our home if you’re stuck on something or have hit a roadblock on a task or project is, “Stand on your head. It will give you a new perspective!”
It’s quite profound if you think about it for a minute. We are all so used to going through life with the same upright perspective day-in and day-out that we fall into routine and from there we fall further into ruts that we can’t get out of. Our life becomes boring, predictable and safe. The potential each one of us has gets buried deeper and deeper as we sink lower and lower into the rut we’re stuck in. Then when a problem arises, we freeze. We can only see one way to solve it… if that! There is no creativity, no open-mindedness, and no constructive problem solving. The problem is that we have stopped standing on our heads.
Imagine for a moment that you’ve lost something in your bedroom. You’ve searched for an hour and you just can’t find it. You’ve searched everywhere and then gone over it again a second time. Finally you ask for help. This new person walks in and finds it within five minutes! Why does this happen? Because it’s a new perspective. They don’t see things exactly like you do. Sure they are looking at the same items as you, but they notice different things.
Standing on your head accomplishes the same thing. Things will appear differently to you from that perspective. And this doesn’t just have to be literal, it can be figuratively as well. Work through a problem backwards and you'll discover new things about the situation, and in many cases, resolve whatever issue you're facing.
This leads me to Ethan's outbursts and the issue of his tantrums. It's no secret that most autistic children experience feelings of being overwhelmed, over-stimulated, and therefore act out in often dramatic ways. Ethan's physiology is such that there are many times during the day that approaching life upright causes him stress, so, he flips things literally upside down until he can get a handle on whatever he is facing.
It's actually quite brilliant and yet, counter-cultural. We spend years in school, jobs, and society being taught to think a certain way and to fit into a certain box. And yet, if you talk to the average person, they are continually stifling feelings of being overwhelmed, overstimulated, and feelings of anxiety and depression - so much so that it's becoming somewhat of an epidemic!
What were to happen if we took a page out of Ethan's book, or anyone who is deemed "odd", "different" or "special" and simply flipped things on their head? I think it would open up a whole other world for everyone.
Ethan has added nothing but colour and extreme expression into our world since he was born. Since his diagnosis we've been forced to look at the world in a different way, or I should say invited. A fresh pair of eyes, a different perspective, standing on your head - they all lead to a more diverse, more complex worldview - something we all could use more of don't you think?
I challenge you to stand on your head today. If you teeter or topple a few times, don't worry, because once you master standing on your head without assistance, who knows what will be revealed.