ask a yogi: benefits & headstands

lululemon: therapeutic benefits of yoga
Season (from the Corte Madera store) enjoying the therapeutic benefits of yoga on the peak of Half Dome in Yosemite
lululemon: ask a yogi

you asked...

I am looking into alternative therapies to help me get back on my feet and a number of people have suggested yoga. I’ve done yoga minimally in the past as cross-training but I’d like to hear now about the therapeutic benefits of yoga and if you think there is a way that I could ease myself into it to the benefit of my back health. - Kim

a yogi answers

Hi Kim,
Without knowing details of your physical condition or being qualified to give medical advice, I can only provide you with general information regarding yoga which should be secondary to your doctor’s advice and your own knowledge of your limitations or injuries. I definitely believe that if you select the right class and practice safely and properly on a regular basis, yoga will help you regain your physical health.

Yoga helps the spine stay supple, promotes circulation in all the organs, glands, and tissues, increases flexibility, improves balance and increases strength in the entire body. I believe yoga is the perfect system for maintaining and balancing the whole body, not to mention all of the incredible mental benefits, and can be a great therapeutic tool if it is utilized properly. However, if you have an injury, do not be over-aggressive, modify poses to avoid reaggravation, and most importantly become knowledgeable about your injury so that you understand what you can and cannot do.

There are many different types of yoga, and with a little research, I am sure you can find the perfect class to put you on the road to physical and mental well being. You'll also enjoy meeting all the other students, many of whom are also dealing with physical issues.
- Danielle

lululemon banff in headstand
A recent tripod headstand at lululemon Banff.

you asked...

At the end of most classes, we do plow pose or shoulder stand. For some reason plow and shoulder stand give me an INSTANT headache. Any reason why? - Kelly

I was wondering what to do if my head starts to hurt during headstand. I know it sounds stupid, but it prevents me from practicing the pose and I really want to master it. - Bianca K.

a yogi answers

Hi Bianca and Kelly,

Even though I am not a doctor, I know headaches can be a serious and complicated problem. My initial reactive answer to both of your questions is to tell you to stop doing these poses that give you headaches, until you figure it out with your yoga teacher or (if it is persistent or bad) your doctor.

There are all kinds of possible causes. I have also learned that headaches during or after practice can be due to a number of other causes, such as: dehydration, sinus congestion, allergies, hunger, lack of sleep or many other possibilities.

Regarding Bianca's question: I want to tell you what one of my teachers preached about headstands: Do not attempt headstand until you have mastered Shoulder Stand (Holding Supported or Unsupported Shoulder Stand for 10 minutes). Once you have a regular practice of Shoulder Stand, you can try Headstand A, but make sure you are able to keep most of the weight on your forearms with minimal weight on the top of your head.

Headstand is an intermediate/advanced posture and should be practiced under the guidance of an experienced teacher. Remember, your cervical spine is meant to only carry the weight of your head.

Regarding Kelly’s question: you should spend several months working on a variety of other postures to help strengthen your back and neck muscles. For Shoulder Stand or Plow Pose you need a great deal of flexibility in your neck. Forcing your neck into this posture where it is in full flexion can lead to injuries. Try supported Shoulder Stand, where your shoulders are on blanket,s to maintain a natural curve in your cervical spine. Your neck should not be pressing down into the mat. Make sure that you place the blankets under your shoulders and not your neck. Have a certified yoga teacher check your alignment in the pose and check to make sure the back of your neck remains soft.

- Danielle

Read the other Ask a Yogi posts:
Introducing... Ask a Yogi!
Ask a Yogi: How to Begin

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1 Comment »

Fantastic post. I’m interested in the connection between yoga and weight loss. I think it comes down to the changes that occur in a person with regular practice. I’m sure the classes and exercise help, but after a while one develops a more relaxed attitude towards food and makes better choices. Thanks!

Comment by yoga pants for women — May 4, 2010 @ 4:54 am

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