The word headstand celebrates its 100th year in print this year following its first appearance in 1915 in The Indianapolis Sunday Star: “Barrett..brought the crowd to its feet by doing a Barnum and Bailey flip, handspring and headstand all combined”. It’s hard to visualize this feat… could a headstand, which is a stationary balance position on the head supported by the arms, be part of an acrobatic series that requires speed and momentum to perform the flip and the handspring? Who knows for sure what breathtaking scenes took place, but this is where the headstand first appeared in print. Its origins, however, go back centuries, since it’s a classic feature of yoga and gymnastics.
In 1968, The Times newspaper described the purpose of the handstand in the context of yoga, writing: “Hatha yogis have known for centuries that the vigorous flow of blood to the brain brought about by the headstand..is likely to create..improved clarity of concentration”. This is an interesting method to improve concentration. The headstand is not a comfortable position to get yourself into, but it’s certainly a healthier (and cheaper) option than grabbing a cup of coffee to fuel brain power as many of us do these days.
The sport of gymnastics is also well known for including headstands in its catalog of moves. It’s much younger than yoga, originating in late eighteenth and early nineteenth century Germany when boys practiced physical exercises on apparatus. In 1896, it appeared as a sport in the first modern Olympic Games and has gained huge popularity since. Perhaps back in the nineteenth century, the headstand was a major feature of gymnastic displays, but since then, it’s been downgraded to a beginner’s move as increasingly hair-raising acrobatic skills take its place.