You know how sometimes, there’s the circus-act aspect of yoga, it feels like doing tricks. “Okay, trained monkey, now do your headstand…” I feel awkward with inversions, because I’m not good at either headstand or shoulder stand, and not strong enough for hand stand, and I feel like I somehow “should” be good at them, or how can I call myself a yoga teacher? The little voice in my head says, “Fraud! yoga teachers should be able to do this stuff…” (don’t even get me started on should and the little voice in my head.)
Inversions are supposed to be really good for you- I’ve seen headstand and shoulder stand referred to as “king of asana”. Benefits can include getting lymph flowing, plus building the necessary core strength to get into them.But they’ve always made me feel uncomfortable, like the benefits don’t outweigh the risks.
So it was good to find this article confirming what I had been thinking, why should we call headstand a royal pose? Should it be taught in a group exercise setting? Should it be practiced alone? (Hmmm…there’s that should again. )
Then I looked into more research, and find that some of the same sources that say headstand is the king of asana recommend that they not be performed by people who are menstruating. Why not? Ummm…you know, humours, and apana, and wandering womb… and also endometriosis! Turns out the endometriosis thing isn’t accurate, so, never mind. But, apana*…
Then I look at the way I am constructed. My thigh bones, and leg bones and hips and lumbar vertebrae are sturdy, strong, robust even. My neck bones are teeny! I’m supposed to roll up into shoulder stand and support my weight on those little bitty bones? Or, place the crown of my head on the floor and kick up into head stand supporting all my weight on my cervical vertebrae?
When I was in yoga teacher training last winter, two things happened that started me on the path to questioning how I “should” be doing headstand. In a practice class, where the community was invited to take the class taught by one of my fellow yoga teacher training students, we got to the part where she says, “If headstand is part of your regular practice, gently, with control, move into headstand.”
There was a woman in the corner whom I had chatted with before class- she had never done yoga before, and she was eager to try. When we got to the inversion portion of class, she kicked up into headstand, and promptly flopped over onto the person on the mat next to her. I later heard her tell the friend she had come with, “wow, I haven’t done a headstand since elementary school!” Yikes! Like that’s a good thing! What part of “part of your regular practice” did she not understand!?
The good news is, she wasn’t hurt, the guy she fell on wasn’t hurt, everybody was okay, but it doesn’t feel safe to teach this process in a room full of people who have differing experience and skills.
The other thing that happened during my training was when I was prepping for headstand during another class, crown of head on floor, hands cradling the back of my head, forearms strongly pressing into the floor, prepping to “gently, with control” lift up, I felt this weird pressure behind my eyes, and “pop!”
Wait, was that my eyeball popping?! AIIII! I freaked out, in the most yogic way possible. I came down to my knees, calmly stood and made my way out of the room into the bathroom and checked my eye for a burst blood vessel. I was okay. Check again. Okay. I got my breathing and heart rate back down, and calmly returned to the yoga room and continued with the class. It was the cool down, anyway. Spinal twist. Happy baby pose. Savasana. Just breathe.
When we debriefed afterward, I talked about my experience (everyone was really impressed by my not running around and screaming “my eye!”) But the consensus of these wise women in my teacher training cohort was, “don’t do it if you’re scared- don’t listen to the voice that says ‘should'”
So, what do you think? What are the benefits to inversions beyond looking cool on Instagram? Have you been to yoga classes where you felt that you should try headstand because others were? What does your little voice say you should be doing?
*apana means downward energy flow- the idea that during your period, energy is flowing downward, and a vigorous pose like headstand or handstand or shoulder stand is counter to that.