How do you feel about headstand and shoulderstand? Do you enjoy practising them? Do they make you feel good? Do you feel comfortable with how to enter, hold and exit the poses? If you’re a yoga teacher, do you feel confident in assessing how students are coping with entering, holding and exiting these poses?
Lots of questions because recently I read two related articles about headstands and shoulderstands which raised fundamental questions about these two asana – namely, are they safe, sensible and desirable? The first article (King and Queen no more) was prompted by a news story about a yoga studio owner in America prohibiting either asana being performed in her studio, or, by her students at home, and listed her five reasons for implementing this decision.
Now, banning asana may sound radical or even ridiculous, in which case I thoroughly recommend reading not only the very balanced and detailed article which analyses these asana and their inherent problems, but also the follow up article (Top five ways of derailing a conversation about yoga safety) where the author outlines how the first article prompted a number of expected responses, including those which sought to “minimize, deflect, and derail the focus of the conversation”. Check the list and see if you had any of the same responses! (Quite apart from the yoga angle, the five ways of derailing are interesting in themselves in terms of approaches in arguments.)
And my opinion? Well, over time, I find that I enjoy shoulderstand less and less. If I practise it in the morning it makes my head pound ferociously and feel like it’s going to explode. I currently prefer the ‘sacrum on a brick block’ variation, with the legs raised up. During other times in the day it seems fine.
What are your views?
Updated 22nd April ’15
I came across a really useful quote and viewpoint (by Leslie Kaminoff, co-author of Yoga Anatomy) which I think makes a lot of sense:
“When you say this asana is dangerous, or this asana helps with this problem, or this pose is contraindicated for that problem—the problem with those kinds of statements is that they are completely lacking context,” explains Kaminoff. “You cannot ascribe intrinsic properties to postures apart from the people that are doing them.”
Kaminoff wants yoga teachers to stop talking about asana in an abstract sense. “They only exist in the concrete,” he says. “And the concrete consists of a person putting their body into a shape. If you take that as a starting point, then you can have a conversation about asana—about Wild Thing or anything else—as long as you are talking about the person doing the asana.” (Text from Yoga Journal blog post on wild thing pose.)