Neck Pain and Head Stands in Yoga, Inversion Dangers

Detached retina is a danger of head standThe neck is the most flexible part of the spine and is prone to the most injury. The neck supports the average head, which weighs 10-15 pounds. The headstand, the king of inversions in yoga, has become a kind of merit badge of achievement for many who practice yoga. Those in a more spiritual practice frame of mind appreciate this asana that reverses the emotional and psychic levels to allow a new perspective (literally and figuratively) on past behaviors and thoughts.

The Head Stand in Yoga,Shirshasana

Headstands are the ultimate inversion asana posture in yoga. The focus of gravity is transposed with weight shifted from the top of the body, the head, from the traditional foot, the feet, of the body. The pose requires strength balance trust and a degree of athleticism , balance, trust, and a degree of athleticism in the adult practitioner. It should never be performed by beginner or intermediate students without a spotter or teacher present to observe the form and assist when needed.

Physiology of the Head Stand

Circulation is reversed within the body in inversions. Consequently blood pressure (BP) will increase from a traditional 100/60mmHg at the top of the head when upright to 150/110 mmHg when inverted in the pose.

Normally the BP of the feet will drop to 40/0mm Hg in the head stand. Ideally the heart level remains at a normal 120/80mmHg in the well non-hypertensive adult. Assuming even weight distribution, there is then no strain on the shoulders, neck, or vertebrae be it bone, muscle, or tendons.

What are the Dangers of the Headstand?

The beginning yogi may not be strong or flexible enough to do the headstand correctly and end up n a wobbly position attempting to balance the rest of the body onto the fragile neck. This may overstretch or over-compress the neck vertebrae and discs. There may be pain and possible severe injury. Some dangers of performing a head stand are described below:

Neck pain and strain increased by previous injuries may affect vertebral artery movement and over load the pressure. This neck pressure was described in the New England Journal of Medicine as a potential cause of an unusual arterial dissection (stroke).Yoga students with elevated BP may experience abrupt unhealthy changes in their BP with this inversion.Those with herniation or spondylosis of the cervical spine may have further disc compression or rupture.Eye issues have been recorded such as detached retinas, burst eye vessels and increased intra-ocular pressure for those with known (or unknown) glaucoma.Kidney problems are a contraindication to doing headstands. Pregnant or menstruating women are believed to avoid head stands.Thrombosis and blood clot history is a contraindcation to do a head stand.A head stand may be the cause of a spontaneous fracture of the neck in those with osteoporosis of that area.Alternative Inversions to the Head Stand

Kundalini yoga doesn't teach the headstand. The belief is there is too much pressure put on the neck joint as well as the head. The cervical spine wasn't meant to take on a weight greater than its own. Even lifting the head off the floor in a modified headstand creates joint tension and potential compression. Poses which provide similar benefits are:

Setu Bandhasana-Bridge PoseMatsyasana- fish poseShoulder stand (but not for those with neck or shoulder problems) and supported shoulderstandHalf Headstand where the front of the body is head down and the legs are in downward dog position while the hands support the head on the floor.If headstands are a part of the practice, learn with an experienced teacher who is aware of any past or potential injuries or illnesses. Being at peace in yoga practice means knowing there is nothing to prove to one's self or to others. The ultimate yoga pose is sirvasana a meditative sleep pose, a meditative sleep pose.Read Further

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NEJM,Spontaneous dissection of the carotid and vertebral arteries,Mar 22,2001

CMAJ,Norris JW, Beletsky V, Nadareishvili ZG. Sudden neck movement and cervical artery dissection. The Canadian Stroke Consortium. . Jul 11 2000;163(1):38-40

Dissection, Vertebral Artery accessed from the web,Jan 9,2011

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