Ads By Google

Friday, April 17, 2009

Hatha Yoga in Practice - Is Shirshasana (Headstand) Dangerous?

By Paul Jerard

The New England Journal of Medicine published a study about the connection between specific Yoga postures (asanas) and a particular type of stroke called, "arterial dissection." It seems that sudden neck movements, or any Yoga posture that places extreme pressure on your neck, can put you at risk.

Am I trying to scare you about the dangers involved in practicing a posture, such as: Shirshasana? No, but you should be aware of the potential for injuries in any posture. The chances of experiencing arterial dissection, as a result of Shirshasana practice, are quite rare; but this is only the tip of the iceberg, when we consider developing a safe Yoga practice.

For example, your cervical vertebrae are quite thin, in comparison to your lumbar vertebrae, for a reason: Your lumbar vertebrae are large in comparison to cervical vertebrae. The surrounding muscular tissue in your back, shoulders, and neck, were designed to support your spine and the weight of your skull.

When you turn everything upside down, you put pressure on the thin and delicate cervical vertebrae. Additionally, do you know for sure that you do not have arthritis or osteoporosis? Unless you are thoroughly warmed up, have practiced preparatory postures, and have your doctor's consent, why would you take unnecessary risks with your health?

Maybe you think you are too young to have "bone problems." Children are injured performing headstands in supervised gym classes and on front lawns. Unfortunately, I have worked with "retired" gymnasts who were diagnosed with arthritis in their early 20's. In their cases, arthritis occurred because of repetitive torque and motion. Do not avoid a doctor's consultation because of your ego.

Speaking of ego, we often hear an asana referred to as advanced. Everyone wants to be promoted to the head of the class. If we can perform Shirshasana, with a heavy chair on our feet, and sip a coffee through a straw at the same time, are we advanced Yogis?

Consider this: To perform any asana, with complete presence, is Hatha Yoga; but to perform a posture without a clear intention, and full awareness, is a mindless form of exercise. Hatha Yoga is not a physical exercise alone, and it requires that you be mentally present for practice.

If you are a student, please seek out a competent Yoga teacher, and learn foundational techniques, before practicing challenging postures or under taking risky techniques. Get your doctor's blessing. Warm up and perform preparatory Yoga postures before practicing advanced techniques.

If you are a Yoga teacher, there is no room for ego or arrogance. No matter what style you were certified in, putting your ego "in the back seat" should have been addressed in your foundational Yoga teacher training. Never take chances with your student's livelihood.