Inversions are good for the lungs, for the heart, for the thyroid gland. Most yogis are told this again and again in class. What a lot of us aren’t told though is that if done incorrectly, too soon, without proper instruction or with pre-existing back conditions, headstands and shoulderstands may also finish us up in a chiropractor’s office with compression of the upper back.
Because my spine looks like this:-
I’m not the biggest fan of the headstand of the shoulderstand. When I do practice shoulderstand I like to do it supported by the wall, but personally I like to think that all inversions, where the head is lower than the heart, give similar benefits. So, for example, a downward dog….
….or legs up the wall (or indeed just in the air),
will still give the body the “slowing down” feeling that a shoulderstand can give. Try them, they may not look as clever but they are beautiful!
Whilst headstands were off the menu this week at the Gaiam Yoga Club, shoulderstands and handstands were not. To be fair there were several versions of shoulderstand to practice, including one with wall support and the podcasts continually encouraged us not to go further than our bodies told us to. Now this is great for people who know their bodies but I’m still not 100% convinced that someone new to yoga, who has never practiced inversions with a teacher, will be completely comfortable practicing shoulderstand as instructed through video and podcasts. Maybe I’m wrong? Maybe as a teacher I want to keep thinking students need me? What do you think?
And then there are handstands! There is a lot less potential for injury in a handstand. You tend to just topple over at the very worst. When it comes to handstands a lot of it is about letting go of fear. Most people could do handstands at least against the wall as a kid. Somewhere along the way we lose that innate sense of fearlessness that we have as a child and suddenly are too scared to kick up the wall as an adult. Handstands are about overcoming that fear. And having fun trying.
Two things. Firstly I have carpal tunnel in my wrists (I know! Is there a part of me that works properly?). Putting a lot of weight through my hands, as you need to for handstands (and hand balances in general) just isn’t an option for me. Although the version of handstand where you face the wall rather than away from it and walk your feet up it works to an extent for me I was disappointed that this was the only other option for handstand.
Secondly (and this isn’t Gaiam’s fault at all) this last week was the wrong week for me to be doing inversions. Now I’m not particuarly strict on the old adage of not doing inversions when you have your period, I believe that every woman is different and I know some women find inversions help with the cramps. But for me it feels horrible to be upside down at this time of the month. I was sorry to see that there was no mention of this on Gaiam at all before teaching shoulder and handstands.
The sequences were a lot of fun, fitted into busy days and felt very balanced so I would still, on the whole, recommend this course. But maybe not to complete beginners. However, there are discussion forums and blogs to explore which may help answer any practioner questions.
So readers, how do you feel about going upside down?
The Gaiam Yoga Club is currently running two memberships – US$25 per month or US$65 per quarter (which saves you US$10). Both packages include a 10 day free trial period.