Saturday, May 11, 2013

Investigating the Benefits & Risks of Headstand: Part 3

Part 3 of a three part series on headstand

by Kathleen Summers, MD, PhD, RYT500

In part one of this series, we investigated the historical importance of headstand in yoga. In part two we examined the benefits of practicing headstand. In this final article of the series, we’re going to look at the potential downside to turning upside-down on your head.

1)  Degenerative damage to the cervical spine


Too much pressure on the small disks and facet joints of the cervical vertebrae may lead to wear and tear over time. Degenerative disk disease and facet joint arthritis may ensue, leading to chronic neck pain. There is no quality evidence that speaks to this. We do know that hips and knees are damaged by too much weight and that taking pounds of pressure off of them lessens pain and helps to prevent progression. It seems like common sense then, that turning upside-down and putting the body’s weight on other joints (smaller ones not designed for such a load) will also cause cartilage degeneration and arthritis.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Investigating the Benefits & Risks of Headstand: Part 2

Part 2 of a three part series on headstand.

by Kathleen Summers, MD, PhD, RYT500

In part one of this series, we investigated the historical importance of the headstand in yoga and learned that it is not mentioned in the classic triad of traditional yoga texts from centuries past. Although the texts describe various asanas and note when they are useful for the treatment of certain medical conditions, there’s no indication that yogis were doing sirsasana back then – or that it’s helpful for any particular condition.

Yet, if you read the various websites out there, just about everything is considered curable by sirsasana. I’ve searched the medical literature and the oldest reliable yoga works I can find in English, and I can’t figure out where they get some of that stuff.

If I had to guess, I would say that much of it originated with a favorite guru of mine, Swami Sivananda. He was a medical doctor, a prolific writer, and by many accounts, a great yogi and healer. He was ahead of his time – but a little behind ours. He died in the early 1960′s, before I was born, and medical science has advanced quite a bit since then.

So, let’s take a fresh look at some of the claims and see what health effects sirsasana may bring.