Here’s what you need to know

A recent study on headstand & neck safety in yoga was summarized nicely in this article by Grace Bullock, Ph.D., E-RYT500.  At Yoga Lab we are committed to teaching a safe and sustainable practice.  We have decided as a group not to teach headstand.  We agree with Dr. Bullock’s conclusion that “there are many inversions and forearm balances that provide the same gains at a fraction of the risk,” and we will focus on teaching those postures instead.

Here are some of the important take-home messages from the article:

“This study provides several important take home messages if you choose to teach or practice headstand.

  1. The posture places considerable weight load onto the head and neck that, with poor alignment, technique and/or repetition, may injure the cervical spine. There is also the risk for nerve damage in cases in which the neck is hyperextended or the head shifts to one side.
  2. Headstand places less of a strain on the head and neck when entered into slowly and with control.
  3. The pose is contraindicated when practitioners have one or more of the following conditions: osteoporosis/osteopenia, hypertension, glaucoma, detached-retina, pregnancy, menstruation, cervical injury or dysfunction, heart conditions or other serious medical diagnoses.
  4. Students should learn headstand under the guidance of a highly experienced instructor, and only attempt the posture when the instructor and student are confident that the practitioner has sufficient core and upper body strength to sustain the pose.

Although headstand is one of my favorite inversions, I no longer teach or practice it. When comparing the research regarding the risks and biomechanics of the pose to its benefits I’ve concluded that there are many inversions and forearm balances that provide the same gains at a fraction of the risk.  Personally, I choose safety and sustainability above all else for myself and the students in my care. Ultimately, it is a personal decision and one that all yoga instructors and practitioners should consistently reflect on.”

Here is the full reference for the original study:

Hector, R. & Jensen, J.L. (2015). Sirasana (headstand) technique alters head/neck loading: Considerations for Safety. Journal of Bodywork & Movement Therapies, 19, 434-441.