When in the flow of life “things” continue to present themselves, you have to pay attention. This happens for me around the issues of injuries from practicing yoga. The most common ones I hear about always stem around inversions, with head and shoulder stands being the big leaders, but now handstand issues are becoming more prevalent. In this post, we’ll discuss some issues I have around the media and yoga injuries.
First, yoga is a physical fitness activity. This means you run the risk of injury. It is a fact. The same as if you were to going the gym to lift weights, take a zumba class, did a crossfit oriented workout, or simply were walking up or down some stairs. I say this because I have had a few injuries over my life of playing sports and practicing yoga. I jokingly say that tennis is to blame when I tore my meniscus while playing. The truth is, that is just when the knee got too weak to support the torque of planting the foot and shifting my position. Among many sport activities, I was a catcher in baseball, played soccer at the collegiate level, was a gymnast, and I still ski . . . all this to say, my knees have had their fair share of unintentional abuse.
Did tennis really cause my injury, it played a part, but not really. The injury was a progressive build up that happened while I was playing. It could have been on the ski slopes or running around in the backyard with my son or dogs or while practicing one of those great pretzel like yoga poses. The first issue I have is for people, and publications, to stop bad mouthing a particular type of exercise simply because an injury has occurred.
What am I really getting at here. These people and media sources whom elucidate on the injuries of practicing yoga and that you shouldn’t do it or never practice head or shoulder stands, are only proposing one side of the full issue. They always write nice articles about the people who have been injured, they add quotes from doctors or other professionals (who probably don’t practice yoga), but I feel they never consider the totality of the event. Do they consider the fact something may have simply gone wrong, like the person fell out of the pose and got hurt, or were being encouraged to push passed a safe point for their body or level of practice. Or is the media avoiding the real discussion that the student was injured because of the teacher not being well versed and knowledgeable on how to teach the particular posture/movement properly and in a safe manner.
Mostly I hear about neck injuries and shoulder issues. If I have a student with known issues, we do alternative postures/positions or appropriate variations for the issue. Really this goes for any type of posture, but in the case of headstands some weaknesses or over strengths in the body can also lead to problems when putting a large amount of body weight on the head. One alternative is to practice aspects of the posture with the head off the floor. Another is to work on handstand instead.
While having a discussion about this with a fellow yoga teacher, she told me about a person who in 2017 had a stroke while practicing the Instagram fad handstand version people are calling “hollow back handstand”. The pose is nothing really new, it’s a deep back bend in handstand using the wall for support. It’s more a prep for dropping back from handstand into Urdhva Dhanurasana, “wheel or upward facing bow”.
After reading the Shape Magazine article, it made me think about what is lacking in the report. In this case, my issue is not that Shape Magazine made yoga look overly dangerous. I feel the problem is they didn’t really explain with enough depth as to why yoga is still a great way to exercise and stay healthy. They make the whole thing hinge on the handstand variation and do not take into account or really discuss that all inversions and some other “aerobic stress increasing” postures would also have added to the students stroke incident.
However, in their defence, they did state the stroke incident is probably rare or a freak occurrence and the student was predisposed to a carotid artery dissection. They did do a decent job of listing the importance of working with a qualified teacher. I can not stress this enough and I feel this is a critical component when looking to advance your practice. In addition, they state that mimicking postures seen on Instagram is not wise, as you do not know how long that person has been working on, practicing, or doing the pose.