I don’t know if you have any idea that simply because you are not aware of the safety rules for performing inverted asanas, sarvangásana, halásana, karnapidásana and sirsásana, you can have serious consequences for your physical integrity.
And ask yourself:
Does the place where I practice have solid knowledge to teach and introduce me safely in the execution of inverted postures?
Do I have all the care and precautions when I perform these postures?
Now that your brain is alert, pay attention to what you are going to read and then, if it seems relevant, take care of yourself.
And don’t forget that Shiva has already run out of material to replace your little body, and that places in the clouds only exist in movies.
It’s just that in countless contemporary yoga books you find torn praise for these asanas, as if they were almost a panacea for all ills, even for split hair they are good.
And the temptation to learn these postures at any cost is very great for those who only think about benefits or show off.
And for reasons that are beyond the understanding of normal people, the myth was created that performing these postures, especially sirsasana (inverted on the head), is a sign that one is entering the eventual and restricted imaginary club of an experienced practitioner.
There are even humbug yoga places, where right in the first class they ask the practitioner to perform these asanas… regardless of the student’s physical condition, weight, age or experience.
And you can also find books by the most reputed Masters of the present time, in which the description of the execution of sarvangásana (inverted on the shoulders) is described as correct when the torso, pelvis and legs are perfectly perpendicular to the floor (without the use of any material of support).
With these affirmations engraved in their minds as absolute truths, countless naive yoga teachers try to get their students to perform these asanas on a simple mat (stick mat), also striving in their practice to achieve it (unsuccessfully) and massacring students with physical adjustments and verbal encouragement to achieve this bookish perfection.
Undeniably, inverted postures bring benefits to those who practice them with time, conditions, security and knowledge, but that is not the point.
Under what conditions and in what way can the practitioner benefit from the practice of these postures, without compromising his health, is the question to ask.
Using simple common sense, let’s raise a few questions:
- Can an overweight practitioner safely perform the inversion over the head or over the shoulders?
- Is a practitioner with a weak shoulder girdle fit for these poses?
- Can anyone with kyphosis and cervical fragility perform these poses safely?
- Can older students with no previous experience be introduced to these asanas?
- Are there any health conditions that are contraindicated for practicing these asanas?
- Is it safe to do inversion over the shoulders without support material?
- Don’t the differences and anatomical proportions of practitioners require particular attention and care?
Some more considerations can be made, but let’s first understand what happens in the joint, nervous and circulatory structure of our neck.
The neck is made up of seven cervical vertebrae, numbered from bottom to top from 7 to 1, with vertebra number 1 being next to the skull.
The shape of the cervical vertebrae and their intervertebral discs make the neck the most flexible part of the spine.
The range of motion in the cervical area is therefore very large:
- The neck in general can flex backwards up to 75 degrees; forward to 40 degrees; sideways by about 45 degrees, and can rotate about its own axis by about 50 degrees.
- These movements can be reduced or extended according to the particular anatomical characteristics of each one, as well as their muscular flexibility and training.
But it is convenient not to forget a small detail:
As they run through your neck, the left and right vertebral arteries cross a bony labyrinth that is very different from other bodily structures, and clearly distinct from the comfortable path that the carotids take to reach your brain.
Roughly speaking, we can say that the cervical vertebrae have bony protuberances on each side, through which the vertebral arteries pass towards the brain.
Thus, the left and right vertebral arteries pass through these holes at C6 and continue through these to the upper part of the neck, where they begin a true zigzag back and forth towards the skull.
Between C2 and C1 they move forward, and when leaving C1 they lean sharply backwards towards the occipital orifice at the base of the skull.
This hole acts as a passageway not only for blood vessels, but also for nerves, ligaments and the spinal cord.
It is known that the final part of the vertebral arteries forms an authentic serpentine until it reaches the brain, its passage being very variable, as it varies from person to person.
It is not difficult to understand that extreme movements of the head and neck can damage these arteries, producing clots, inflammation and constriction, and as a consequence a marked decrease in blood flow towards the brain.
And this can happen to any young or older practitioner who ventures into yogic experimentation on their own or through the hand of curious yoga enthusiasts.
This action of compression or injury causes a reduction or even inhibition of blood flow in the basilar artery (which originates the right and left posterior cerebral artery) located within the occipital orifice, thus affecting the brainstem and cerebellum.
The brainstem plays a key role in controlling breathing, and the cerebellum processes information from other areas of the brain, such as the spinal cord and sensory receptors, which allow muscles to perform coordinated and uniform movements.
It can also affect the thalamus, hypothalamus and occipital lobe responsible for converting eye impulses into images.
In summary, the basilar artery nourishes some of the most important areas of your brain.
Partial or total reduction or suppression of blood flow in the basilar artery can cause:
- Eye problems
- Respiratory disorders
- Weakness of arms and legs
- Sudden falls
- Chronic headaches
- Inability to control body temperature
- Total or partial loss of muscle control
Unfortunately, the number of these accidents has increased exponentially in recent years, in the United States and Europe, caused by the incorrect practice and execution of these asanas and their variants.
This fact stems from the rampant commercialization of yoga and the greater number of practitioners around the world.
This leads us to reflect on:
- When the quality of teaching is replaced by the hasty recruitment of trained teachers in the blink of an eye.
- When instead of providing a serious and reasoned service to students, for their spiritual development, the focus of interest of the yoga movements is to place practitioners at the service of the dissemination and expansion of their commercial empires.
- When the level of consciousness of students and teachers is reduced to the pleasure of joining and participating in the latest fashion invented under the name of yoga.
- When those who should have more responsibility and inner development simply seek to walk around and cultivate an excessive Ego, idolizing their performances and physical abilities.
- When one intends to replace spiritual practice with shanti indoctrination, namastés and pseudo Indian philosophies shuffled with many Sanskrit terms.
- When all this happens around us, there is no doubt that in the cauldron of Yoga, an explosive mixture is installed where mistakes, problems and serious accidents ferment.
However, if you pay attention to the instructions that we are going to give you, you have technical material to know how to assess situations and keep your neck safe.
Traditionally, the practice of yoga was transmitted in a restricted way from master to disciple, by those who actually had the knowledge and experience to transmit this art. What avoided all these problems and confusions from scratch.
But the truth is that the cauldron of yoga is in great boiling, and for your safety, here are the indications that we consider most important.
You can consult the previous article on inversions on our blog, thus getting the basics.
And now let’s go deeper into the topic:
Headstand – Sirsasana
- If you have cervical problems, your arms and shoulders are weak, and you have a weak core, forget about practicing this posture for the moment and work towards improving your condition.
- If your shoulders, arms and core are worked out but you have cervical problems, you can use a support where you support your shoulders, avoiding putting your head on the ground, as you can see in photo nº1:
- If you have a body mass index above 22%, you should also use this support or do Sirsasana on the rope, as you can see in photo nº2.
Always having an experienced teacher present to help and support you.
With these simple precautions, you not only avoid cervical compression, but also naturally stretch the muscular structure of the neck, creating space and mobility between the vertebrae.
You also free your neck and shoulders from the tension caused by everyday life.
Shoulderstands – Sarvangásana, Halásana and Karnapidasana
With these asanas it is necessary to pay extra attention.
While in Sirsasana (inverted on the head), students have some fear and are usually more reluctant to venture out, in inversions on the shoulders they have a false sense of security, which leads them to think that it is just holding the hands with their hands. back and stretch your legs up.
They couldn’t be more wrong!
- The seventh cervical vertebra is obviously not a calcaneus, thus not being a bony structure prepared to support the weight of the body.
- As the back of the skull is not flat, unless you use an electric angle grinder to remove the occipital area, it will be almost impossible for the torso and legs to be in a perpendicular line with the shoulders resting on the floor and the chin on the sternum.
- The attempt to place the torso and legs in a perpendicular line to the floor (without material) in Sarvangásana, causes an exaggerated hyperextension of the neck, with possible inhibition of blood flow in the basilar artery, a situation with serious consequences for your health, observe photo #3.
4. In the execution of Halásana photo nº4 and karnapidásana photo nº5, the situation can be even more disastrous, since in addition to the strength of the hands in the lumbar area, we have all the weight of the legs, the lack of flexibility of the posterior part of the thighs, plus the lack of clever use of a belt between the elbows causing hyperextension of the neck.
When performing Karnapidásana, the relationship between the proportion between the length of the femur and the torso is also not taken into account, further aggravating this situation, photo nº5.
5. To make the practice of these asanas even more problematic, the new age enlightened, the Shanti Shanti patrol and the Namasté nerds appear, who insist on performing these asanas directly on the floor or on a simple stick mat (yoga mat).
To practice these asanas, you must use material that allows you to safeguard your health:
You will need blankets, yoga foam plaques, belt and cork blocks, and a stable chair.
1- For Sarvangásana, place the yoga foam plaques as in photo nº6 and the blankets and sticky-mat as in photo nº7.
2- Use the yoga belt as in photo nº8, and adjust the placement of the shoulders on the blankets as in photo nº9.
3- For Halásana, follow the indications of Sarvangásana, and use the chair to support your knees as in photo nº10, or the blocks under your feet as in photo nº11.
4 – In Karnapidásana, use the cork blocks at the most convenient height to support your knees, compensating for the length of your torso, plus the use of the yoga foam plaques and blankets as in photo nº12.
Don’t forget to learn how to use these materials with a competent teacher. This way you can enjoy these asanas without putting your physical integrity at risk.
As a final note, we advise all yoga practitioners to use these materials to ensure their safety, and refuse to perform these asanas if the conditions proposed by those who run the class are not in accordance with safety standards.
Teachers are advised not to include these postures in their class program if the gymnasiums or centers where they teach do not have the appropriate material.
You can replace these asanas with the execution of Viparita Karani as in photo nº13 with a bolster and wall support, which benefits students with the effects of classic inverted postures, without the complications and dangers of the lack of appropriate material.
Practicing Yoga safely and intelligently is everyone’s responsibility.