Inverted Nightmares – Everybody Upside Down- Neck Injuries In Headstand


Let gravity work for you. Inversions are good for your lungs, heart, thyroid, and more.

Unfortunately, however, beginning and veteran yoga students are showing up in the offices of bodyworkers, chiropractors, and medical professionals with compression of the upper spine and impaired mobility in the neck, presumably from the practice of inversions.

In a culture that emphasizes competition and achievement, some students are clearly flinging themselves into inversions too soon. Couple that with the desultory nature of many people’s practices–one class a week at best, on a drop-in basis–and classes that are too large for the teacher to see everyone in a given pose, and you have the recipe for possible disaster.

How, then, do we evaluate and approach inversions, poses that are said to be invaluable and that possess distinct physiological benefits? Go to the source: Read about the history of hatha yoga and headstands here

Sirsasana (Headstand) and Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand) are seductive poses–physically challenging, visually dramatic, and exhilarating. They are also surprisingly accessible. Despite the limitations of a tight lower back or hamstrings, most yoga practitioners can move into an inversion relatively easily.

But beginning and veteran yoga students alike are showing up in the offices of bodyworkers, chiropractors, and medical professionals with compression of the upper spine and impaired mobility in the neck, presumably from the practice of inversions. Luckily, you don’t have to become a yoga casualty by jumping into inversions before you’re ready. If you are new to yoga, take your time before inverting–a year (or even three) is not too long. Work closely with an observant and knowledgeable teacher. Attend class regularly. Learn the fundamentals: Find the extension of the spine, open the shoulders, and develop balance, clarity, and strength within beginner poses first.

Neck Injuries In Headstand

headstand-inversions-shoulderstand-neck-injuries-hatha-yogaI’ve been practicing yoga with a teacher for about eight months and have started doing Headstand. My mother, who also practices yoga, told me that her teacher strongly cautions against this pose, because the small vertebrae in the neck are easily injured. Should I be concerned? –Lee Silvestris, Greensboro, North Carolina


The vertebrae in the neck are fragile. Although Sirsasana (Headstand) can be beneficial, you need to approach it with caution–preferably with an experienced teacher who can guide you to prevent injury. Women who are in any stage of osteoporosis can be especially vulnerable to injury in Headstand if they don’t perform it correctly or don’t have the necessary muscular strength.

If you aren’t steady on your way into or out of Headstand, consider working toward it in stages. Your instructor can help assess your ability and guide you until you’re ready to do it on your own. For additional instruction, take a look at Anatomy of Hatha Yoga, by H. David Coulter (Body and Breath, 2001).

Have someone spot you until you can move into, hold, and come out of the pose with control. If you’re misaligned or your weight is poorly distributed, you’ll not only have an imperfect Headstand, you’ll also put excess strain on your upper body or overcompress or overstretch the vertebrae, ligaments, tendons, and muscles in the neck, which can lead to serious injury.

Keep your neck in alignment and distribute your weight evenly between your head, elbows, and forearms to prevent yourself from falling. Place your weight on the crown of the head. To ensure a solid foundation, grasp opposite elbows on the floor to measure the distance apart before bringing your hands forward and together. Once you’re up in Headstand, focus on one point in front of you, breathe, keep your head centered, and don’t turn your face to either side.

Tony Sanchez is principal instructor at the San Francisco Yoga Studio and founder of the U.S. Yoga Association, established in 1984 to teach the health and fitness benefits of hatha yoga.

Courtesy of: Yoga Journal

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