King and Queen No More? Headstand, Shoulderstand, and the Yoga of Experience and Evidence

King and Queen No More? Headstand, Shoulderstand, and the Yoga of Experience and Evidence

This was originally published at Yoga International. Thank you to Kathryn Ashworth and the editorial team there.

Framing the Problem

Leena Miller Cressman, my colleague at Queen Street Yoga in Kitchener, Ontario, recently posted an explanation for why the studio doesn’t teach headstand or shoulderstand, and why she has taken the further—some would say radical—step of strongly requesting that students not practice these postures in the studio space, even outside of class time.

Her reasoning goes like this:

  1. The oft-touted health benefits of the “king and queen” of asanas are not sufficiently supported by medical literature.
  2. Most North Americans present with device-induced forward head carriage, which heightens the risk of bearing weight on the cervical spine.
  3. Cressman’s personal experience of pain associated with these postures has convinced her that even high levels of yoga training (compared to industry standards) have not equipped her or her staff to adequately assess the spinal health of her students, or how to gauge the effects of these poses as practice proceeds.
  4. If the postures aren’t instructed in classes, her faculty can’t be assured that students who improvise them before, during, or after class time have any training at all.
  5. Inversion show-offism can either intimidate or encourage others to crave or try the poses, also without supervision. (This fifth point is not fully fleshed out in the post itself, but Cressman has confirmed her thoughts on it with me via email.)

Cressman’s post was well-received by her community. But in the online beyond, it struck a spinal nerve, so to speak, exposing sharp divisions of views, approaches, and—most importantly—epistemologies.

Informed concern about the practice of postures like headstand is nothing new. No less a figure than Dr. Timothy McCall, medical editor for Yoga Journal, has suggested that headstand is “too dangerous for general classes.”1 Like Cressman, McCall’s view is informed by personal experience. He cites headstand as a possible factor in his diagnosis of thoracic outlet syndrome, a condition in which the arms and hands periodically throb with pain resulting from neurovascular compression in the shoulder girdle.

In my own research for the WAWADIA project, I’ve spoken to several medical professionals who support McCall’s position by expressing doubts in two areas. They question whether there is any health advantage to bearing more than cranial weight on the cervical spine, and they wonder, along with Cressman, exactly how many people have the requisite skill, training, and mindfulness to perform these inversions safely.

On the other side of a growing cultural divide, some long-term practitioners say that the postures are not only essential to personal development, but absolutely safe, given the correct instruction and intelligence. Taken together, the spectrum of views traces the contours of an intractable debate: Is the posture inherently healthful (or dangerous), or is it healthful (or dangerous) only according to how it’s performed?

When facilitating discussion in yoga philosophy, I always try to show students that it’s useful to identify and avoid potentially false dichotomies. In the case of the inversion debate, a third possibility might be to investigate the posture as a cultural artifact, defined not by the edicts of gurus or the MRIs of orthopedic surgeons, but by the reality of how most people practice it. Looked at this way, we might avoid making idealism (these poses should be safe) the enemy of pragmatism (it’s really hard to make them safe).

Let’s suppose there are safe ways of performing these inversions, but that very few practitioners have access to these ways or the skill to execute them. If the inversion is a cultural artifact rather than an ideal form practitioners should aspire to, how does it help to say that everyone who attempts it and hurts their necks is “doing it wrong?” And what about practitioners who felt assured that they did have safe instructions—from Light on Yoga, for example, in which Iyengar advises that in headstand “The whole weight of the body should be borne on the head alone”2 —only to suffer from chronic neck pain years later?

A Few Nuanced Voices

Can these postures be performed safely?

Here’s a brief survey of nuanced opinions that walk a middle ground between aspiration and practicality. They mostly come from my WAWADIA informants, who were so generous with their email responses they’ll have to forgive me for excerpting and paraphrasing them.

In direct contradiction to his lengthy Iyengar training, Richard Rosen has suggested that headstand should be performed with little to no weight upon the cervical spine.3

Yoga anatomist Leslie Kaminoff is more liberal: “The cervical vertebrae are small and delicate compared to the lumbars, but that doesn’t mean they are so fragile they can’t take any weight. After all, when upright, the cervical spine is supporting the weight of the head. It’s a question of intention, distribution and joint balance.”

Amy Matthews, Kaminoff’s colleague at The Breathing Project in Manhattan, extends his thought. “I wouldn’t endorse any statements about the benefits of these inversions, but my take is that they can be done safely. I think safety requires a fair amount of time spent in deep inquiry about how the body is organized, and how to turn that support upside down.

Matthews continues: “Many people I see in my classes are not yet ready to do headstand—often because they have some pre-existing postural patterns that when turned upside down would make it much harder for them to find support (like the head-forward position Cressman mentions).

“But the existence of the patterns isn’t a reason to not do headstand. It’s a reason to approach it with a lot of attention and care. There is a lot to be learned from the inquiry, and I consider every step of the process ‘doing the pose.’”

Yoga TuneUp creator Jill Miller comes at the question from another angle, implying that even “safe” instructions coupled with movement intelligence may not be worth the risks: “Just because you can do the pose, doesn’t mean you should do the pose,” writes Miller. “I am one of those “lucky/unlucky” practitioners who has the range of motion in the shoulders and neck, along with the upper body strength, to get into these poses ‘safely.’ But I don’t.

“You only get 7 cervical vertebrae and their associated discs in this lifetime. You only get one posterior longitudinal ligament in this lifetime, and the more you consistently overstretch it with the pressure and position that shoulderstand/plow require, the more slack you create in the soft tissues of your back body.

“If those tissues become weakened, they may not hold the harder structures like bone and cartilage properly, and the muscles can overwork as a result. This can cause trigger points, muscle imbalances, and can lead to pain and poor proprioception. It sucks when you can’t get a clear sense of your head and neck carriage, given the precious real estate that they contain.

“Furthermore,” Miller adds, “we have to be honest: Even if the practitioner has the range of motion for these poses, we have no evidence of what the ‘minimum or maximum dose’ is for musculoskeletal health in these shapes.”

Yoga Therapist Jules Mitchell, M.S., was able to squeeze out some thoughts between travel connections in her teaching schedule, which has filled up completely since her graduate thesis in the science of stretching and tissue loading (with a special concentration on applications to asana) was accepted by CSU at Longbeach. She offers this:

“If we take a step back and use some biomechanical logic, it becomes very evident that the general population is not prepared to practice these poses. Human tissues adapt over time to applied—but also unapplied—loads. The average 30-year-old student has probably not spent a lot of time bearing weight on the head. So the cervical vertebrae, along with all the surrounding ligaments, tendons, muscles, and nerves are not adequately prepared to take on the compressive and tensional loads associated with these poses.

“Can these tissues be adapted over time?” Mitchell asks. “In many cases, yes. Is that something that should explored in a group class setting? Probably not. Firstly: yoga teachers are not required to be trained in biomechanics. Second: it is unreasonable to expect yoga teachers to be responsible for knowing the loading history of all the students in a drop-in class.”

Edmonton Yoga therapist Michele Theoret also steers the question back to the situational: “We hear about the circulatory and nervous system benefits of these poses, but in terms of classroom practicalities, we have to remember that many studio practitioners have one or more of the following: scoliosis, forward head posture, excess weight in the abdomen or breast tissue, little awareness of the “shoulder joint”—which is actually four joints and not one—all while fighting a general sense of shame around their body and performance. We also have to remember that most studio teachers are educated in an outdated and often generalized script, and have little idea how to approach delicate situations with much besides aspirational statements like ‘practice and all is coming.'”

What most of my sources agreed on was the necessity of navigating the narrow passage between bubble-wrapping each studio with the impossible wish that no one get injured, and finding a space in which the transformative values of faith, uncertainty, and judicious risk are supported.

The Scope of Practice Question

So if headstand and shoulderstand are only teachable if seemingly strangled by so many caveats, should the biomechanics training of studio teachers be upgraded for those who want to teach them? As a yoga anatomy educator, Kaminoff has built his practice on providing graduated levels of training for practitioners and instructors. But he’s adamant about defining his scope of practice, and maintains a strong distinction between “yoga educators” and “medical and therapeutic practitioners.”

“Is it really a yoga teacher’s job to diagnose the spinal health of their students?” he asks. “We’re not doctors or radiologists. What about equipping teachers to help students to tune into their bodies, so they can assess their own joint, breath, and spinal sensations? I want to help students feel confident about living in their bodies—not fearful.”

However, as increasing numbers of yoga teachers and trainers bring pre-existing biomedical expertise into the yoga studio—foreshadowed by certain scientizing forefathers of MPY like Swami Kuvalyananda and Sri Yogendra4—Kaminoff’s distinction between the yoga teacher as “informed guide to confident self-awareness” and the yoga teacher as “diagnostician” is being smudged by many. In my own personal circle of colleagues alone, I know more than a dozen teachers and trainers in asana who are also certified osteopaths, physiotherapists, kinesiologists, neurologists. I even know a neonatal surgeon who’s working towards entering a YTT program. These crossover practitioners are definitely changing the expertise landscape of asana.

Even this isn’t new, nor a predominantly North American thing. David McAmmond is one of Canada’s most senior and respected teachers. He’s also one of the only long-term students of Dr. S. V. Karandikar of Pune, India. Over curries in Calgary, McAmmond told me that Karandikar was Iyengar’s yoga student and on-call doctor for over a decade, until the guru’s verbal abuse drove him across the Mutha river to establish the Kabir Baug Institute for Yoga Therapy.

Dr. Karandikar and his staff see thousands of yoga therapy clients each year. McAmmond tells me that all clients are referred to laboratory testing before yoga treatment begins. Every client that reports back or neck pain is sent for x-rays or MRIs before they are given a single asana.

Why is Karandikar virtually unknown beyond India, while the opus of his late mentor (who had no formal medical training at all) remains the universal go-to for yoga therapeutics? To me, this suggests that the global yoga demographic is more interested in intuition, charisma, and an exclusively pranic model of healing than in the biomedical methods it distrusts, but then relies on when things really go south.

What Knowledge, Which Authorities?

Cressman may have been making some rather simple studio policy statements about a few postures, but the response to her post has revealed the epistemological turmoil at the heart of modern postural yoga, not to mention the strain between serving the hyper-individualism of modern practice and the necessity for sound group exercise policy.

Numerous Facebook commenters on the various shares of Cressman’s post rejected her reasoning outright. They spoke of their enjoyment of the poses, and how they’ve reaped great benefit from them. “I love these poses.” “They’re the most important poses in yoga.” “I wouldn’t go to a studio that told me what I could and couldn’t do.” “Aren’t we all adults? I know how to take care of myself. I listen to my body.”

I think: Well, maybe you do, and it’s great that that’s worked out for you so far. But how about everyone else? How about those who listen to their bodies and are still injured?

It’s worth noting that most pushback to Cressman’s plan offers little but personal testimony and anecdote. This is to be expected, since yoga’s most immediate gift seems to be the enhanced subjective awareness provoked by the revelation of intensive self-care and inquiry. This is the same gift, however, that seems to elevate motivated reasoning and confirmation bias into the lingua franca of modern yoga. And we’ve seen subjective claims taken to absurd conclusions as entrepreneurial teachers copyright and evangelize personal epiphanies into commodified methods (cf. John Friend’s “Universal Principles of Alignment”).

Especially defensive are the teachers who make evidence-free claims like: “I’ve taught these poses safely for years.” This is a meaningless humblebrag, unless the teacher has sophisticated tracking data for students extending far beyond their period of membership at the studio. I teach at a lot of studios and don’t know any that track long-term outcomes. It would take a lot of effort, and a commitment on the part of studio directors to a far different level of evidence-based service.

In cash terms, I can understand why these teachers may automatically reject the suggestion that headstand and shoulderstand should be taken out of public circulation. These are central postures to the workshop and graduated-practice economy through which students are encouraged to “deepen their yoga.” My yoga-teaching partner calls them “carrot postures,” because while most practitioners know that they’ll never put their legs behind their heads, they can be easily convinced that with a little encouragement they can push themselves up into headstand. Safe or not, the Wow Factor here is high. When a student comes home from class and blurts out to her partner: “I stood on my head today! I haven’t done that since I was six!”—this is yoga studio gold.

If this discussion is ever to be resolved, the yoga world will have to get straight on its issues with evidence and authority. This seems acutely important in a poorly-regulated industry that seems hell-bent on remaining poorly-regulated until public health authorities step in. Will exercise scientists rule the day? Or are they not committed enough to extra-physical yogic ideals to merit our attention? If we finally admit that the main students of Krishnamacharya knew virtually nothing about modern biomechanics, will we lose faith in their other gifts? If the guru doesn’t know everything, can he still be the guru? How many people, with how many areas of expertise, can sit on the teacher’s seat? And what is the appropriate amount of responsibility to be assigned to the student?

Beneath the controversy, the implications of Cressman’s policy may provoke a meditation on those primal questions of childhood that likely set us all off upon the yogic journey: What is this? How do I do it? Why? Who will show me? How will I know anything for certain? That we can never see ourselves clearly binds us to each other in the mystery of learning. Guru, doctor, broader community, or Google Scholar—we will undoubtedly reach out to others. The question to ask is whether we will reach out to be changed, or to confirm what we already think we know.

One thing is for sure. Whatever the fate of headstand and shoulderstand, one pose should clearly be junked: the posture of self-certainty.

_____

Note: Special thanks to those sources who because of space limitations I haven’t been able to include: Jason Brown, who teaches yoga anatomy in Manhattan, and Rolfer Maria Christina Jimenez, who teaches yoga anatomy in Los Angeles. I’d also like to acknowledge William Broad’s compilation of headstand references in his Science of Yoga, which I have cherry-picked here, but used in a substantially different way.

References

  1. McCall, T. (2007). Yoga as medicine: The yogic prescription for health & healing: A yoga journal book. New York: Bantam Books. pp. 499-500.
  2. Iyengar, B.K.S. (1979). Light on yoga: Yoga dipika (Rev. [pbk.] ed.). New Schocken Books. p. 187.
  3. Richard Rosen, “Taking the Danger out of the Headstand,” Yoga World, vol. 1 no. 9 (April-June 1999), pp. 3-4.
  4. For more on this fascinating subject, check out Alter, J. (2004). Yoga in Modern IndiaThe body between science and philosophy. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
 
 

18 Comments

  1. inanna

    this article has been around for a while but is interesting:

    http://www.jonburras.com/pdfs/EIGHT-MYTHS-OF-INVERSIONS.pdf

    my take: i practice these poses regularly. headstand was my nemesis pose for many years and i’ve learnt a lot about my psychological makeup from exploring it. but i hardly ever teach it, or shoulderstand. depending on the students, how they’re interacting as a group (subtle competitiveness etc), and how long i’ve been working with them, i sometimes teach preparatory work. i think there’s plenty of mileage in this – but only if the focus is on exploration, personal honesty and sovereignty, and asana-as-process/relationship, rather than as an end in itself. and that has to come through on all levels of teaching, not be undercut by any notions of asana as performance or achievement. i personally feel that after 15 years of teaching, i’m finally starting feel confident enough to throw out a lot of the teaching methods i learnt during my tt, and that this is entirely necessary to evolve ways of teaching that are democratic and non-authoritarian. dropping headstand and shoulderstand as ends in themselves is part of that process for me.

  2. Headstand, Shoulderstand, Plough and Fish will always be around. They will not disappear because they work. They work at opening up the Pranic body in a direct way. They are like great works of art. But; just like any Asana, they are not for everyone and they need good instruction.

  3. and a wonderful article it is thank you Matthew Remski

  4. Frank

    Traditionally headstand and shoulderstand are mudras and not just everyday postures to work up to through other poses on an anatomical level and do indeed take a great level of preparation that few are equipped to approach properly. The above referenced article has numerous misunderstandings about the energetic nature of menstrual cycles and these poses pranic nature which are overly simplified to the point of complete ignorance. Once again I would refer you to the Shadow School or even A.G. Mohan who speaks to this. There is little that can be had without practice and experience though.

  5. inanna

    hi frank, i agree with you about the over-simplification of the energetics of the menstrual cycle in burras’ article. however, i specialise in women’s yoga, have done for 12 years, have studied with experts and researched the effects of different poses inc sirsasana and salamba sarvangasana on my cycle, and i would not have been able to do this if i continued to labour under the kind of illusions that are perpetuated by our current yoga culture, and which are in sore need of debunking. i am indebted to my first teacher (a man) who set me free to explore with subtlety and honesty.

    the issue of inversions and menstruation is perhaps tangential to the post itself. however, at the core of both is that of personal sovereignty vs received wisdom, which may or may not be truthful or useful for the individual practitioner. so for myself, i spent many years inverting during all phases of menstrual cycle; also during pregnancy, miscarriage, the early postnatal period and during my many years of breastfeeding. i have indeed arrived at the point where i consider inversions to be incompatible with my actual bleed, as well as the 3 or so days leading up to it. but i have only arrived at this point by trial and error, experimentation within my own embodiment, and by maintaining open, honest communication with my students, with no fixed “truth” to perpetuate. burras’ point about “practicing patriarchy dipped in a coating of spirituality” is highly relevant, both to the issue of inversions and menstruation and the post as a whole. i respectfully suggest that by using language such as “poses’ pranic nature” you re-mystify these poses such that only the “experts” can tell actual women what is appropriate and relevant for their bodies. this is authoritarianism in the guise of protectionism and is exactly what needs to be rooted out of yoga culture if it is to be of any relevance to practitioners.

    see uma dinsmore-tuli’s mighty work “yoni shakti” for more.

    • Frank

      Yeah Ianna, I think we come from totally different camps and I’m glad you found something you can get behind. I work with a female shakti guru who I have immense respect for and who I defer to for practices in all of this based on countless experiences surrounding her and her ability to work with such subtle energies to a level that few posses in my experience. In our path women are expected to rest a much as possible on their cycle and even restorative yoga is a no-no as it can trigger kundalini episodes which isn’t such of a concern for your run of the mill “lady in a yoga studio” culture I suppose. However, many woman have had some of their deeper and profound experiences following her moon cycle practices despite often times initial reaction under what you would likely deem “protectionism” surrounding the reproductive cycle.
      Though each path ultimately has their own way and how they work with it and I don’t think what I do is for everybody by any means so I wouldn’t push that our way is the only way as we are all after different things in our lives. To what depth your teachers or yourself have gone I cannot speak to. Though looking at the likes of Uma it appears to be more on the physical and psycho-emotional level as it is not really possible to practice deeper aspects of tantra without some kind of diksha and that really isn’t a matter of debate. With such thoughts in mind I have to point out that you say you have studied with experts and then go on to question “experts” who tell people what to do in a pose. What has classified those you work with as an “expert” on yoga versus other “experts” I am curious.
      Bottom line I think is that we all have to trust somebody or something at some level and whether it is our own self constructed theories or an outer sources self constructed and/or lived experiences is all up for question or likewise all up for belief depending on a variety of factors that none of us can fully account for. I do think yoga is a mysterious process at its core and I’m not so much into this democratization /politicization that is going on these days, which I feel has its place to a certain degree, but once again is not my own path or focus and others are free to fight their own battles to get through what they think they need to progress as a human being.

      • inanna

        hey frank, ha, you got me there re my poor “my expert is better than your expert” reasoning!

        i think one of the major issues in yoga in the west is how we get better at choosing our experts, and how much authority we give to them. i agree that we all have to trust someone or something – also that yoga is a mysterious process. for me the best teaching recognises that and allows students to find their own way – as safely as is possible – while honouring the mystery of embodiment.

        to clarify, i don’t teach in studios, and i imagine what i teach is probably very different to what you are learning. but it is all the same process, learning subtlety, the delicate feedback loops in the bodymind, how to sense, flow with and be guided by energy. that’s the case whether you’re a stressed-out mother/worker/wife who has no option to retreat from the world during her moon cycle, or whether you’re in the lucky (chosen?) position of being able to rest completely as you say. it’s all yoga, although what you do might appear to be more “yogic”. and i would argue that on the contrary, all women have potential access to incredibly refined states of awareness. to what degree this is realised depends on what she has to do in her life which to some degree is an issue of privilege, not inherent ability.

        thanks for sharing your thoughts and helping me clarify my position(s) x

  6. Ben

    As always, such an interesting post. At this point I have basically dropped “wild thing” and shoulder stand from my practice. I’m not sure whether I’m ready to abandon headstand, but this definitely gives me a lot to think about. Obviously I know many practitioners who have been doing headstand for ages without issue, but I don’t really want to find out down the road that it isn’t for me.

    Thanks for everything that you’re doing.

  7. I love your work Matthew, but I think you are being unfairly dismissive by stating “It’s worth noting that most pushback to Cressman’s plan offers little but personal testimony and anecdote.”

    Cressman’s reasoning to her policy is based on her personal experience and neither you or her provide any documented cases of people being injured in these poses, so I don’t see how her studio policy and reasoning can be judged superior.

    Yes these poses carry a higher risk of injury, but most yoga poses if done improperly can result in injury. Banning specific poses isn’t going to take injury out of asana; it may even increase injury by giving students a false sense of safety by not practicing these “dangerous” poses.

    • Thanks Timothy. What distinguishes Cressman’s anecdotes from those of others is that they can be contextualized within the framework of critiques offered by bona-fide biomechanics analysts, as I’ve done here. The testimony of those who have done the postures safely for themselves, or so they think at this point in their lives, rarely appeals to interdisciplinary insight.

      Your second argument is interesting. If studios ban potentially dangerous poses, students will be lulled into a false sense of safety? That sounds like saying people might feel justified in texting and driving because they have seat-belts.

  8. “Bona-fide biomechanic analysts” are not Yogis. Yoga is a science and as a science it needs to be practiced by the practitioner to ‘know’ and understand its’ benefits.

    Asanas need to be adjusted to the level of the practitioner. The answer is not to throw out Asanas, nor is it to “feel justified in texting and driving because they have seat-belts”.

    It is to look for a Yoga teacher who can safely teach you these Asanas.

    • Sorry, but there are many yoga practitioners who are biomechanics specialists. And yoga is only a “science” if you ignore the contemporary definition of, um, “science”. The conundrum that you’re ignoring is the possibility that these may not be therapeutic or safe no matter who is teaching them.

  9. Oh, sorry, you are right, there could be biomechanic specialists, who are Yoga practitioners.

    The contemporary definition of science is for one scientist to put forth their findings and for other scientists to comment on them. Isn’t that what we are doing? I consider myself a scientist of Yoga because i have been seriously practicing and teaching Yoga for over 40 years.

    And, I thought about and worked out the safety of these positions long before I read your blog.

    • That’s a small part of any contemporary definition of science, which demands not commentary but evidentiary discussion through good experimental design, plus peer review. Your personal experience, over 4 or 40 years, is anecdotal, which can lead to hypotheses etc., but has limited value on its own. I’m glad you’ve “worked out” the safety of the inversions for yourself. If you had data that showed your solutions had statistical relevance over x population, then you’d be moving beyond anecdote.

      • We will have to agree to disagree and to be clear. I believe the only way to be a master teacher is from our own experiential awareness. I believe in the development of the Buddhi mind its’ fullest.

        • Hi Mathew, It is me again. In thinking about Shoulderstand and Headstand, I would love to meet with you and show you how I am working with them.

          I live in White Rock BC on the iconic White Rock beach front. Wonderful place to visit. We are about an hour from Vancouver BC.

          If you are out this way, please come and visit. My email address is sandra@sammartinoyoga.com and my cell phone is 604-724-9423.

          Please contact me to make sure I am around. It would be such a pleasure to meet with you.

  10. inanna

    agreed – and i feel that it is part of my job as a teacher to try to find ways of ensuring that i’m not just extrapolating from my own experience. i did used to think this was enough, along with careful observation of my students’ responses to class instructions, both in the moment and over time. that was how i was taught to teach, more or less. but i no longer trust my own lens(es) enough to just rely on these particular tools.
    as teachers, how do we cultivate the empathy, and methods of data collection, that do allow us to move beyond anecdote?

  11. Thank you. You have opened up a wonderful nuanced discussion that really lives at the heart of MPY. The key to success is this: “The student’s mind purifies when the teacher stops talking” Ramana Maharshi. The quality of mind that arises in the pose is equally as important as biomechanics and possibly more so. A mind that is full of loving kindness seems to guide a person well and they naturally exude health in asana. A mind that is competitve, comparative and running on adrenaline does well for an intial period of time, but not long term.

    After supporting a family for 25 years teaching yoga full time, lead 34 YTTs, 14 of them year longs, I find myself avoiding fixed viewpoints and supporting unpopular viewpoints on alignment. I you ask me next year, all this might have changed…I offer these suggestions for teachers who are in a conumdrum: now that we are aware of all this, what to lead? What to do?

    Gentle, mellow slowish contemplative raaja vipassana flavored yoga. The injury rate is very low to nonexistent because we do so little. Opinion: Inversions are really important because of blood flow to the brain, expanding and contracting the arteries and veins. And who would not want to retain the amrit, nectar of immortality?

    How can inversions be safe for a wider audience? Personally I always use the “headstanding bench” which is nothing like a headstand. Everything about that prop is beautiful which can be used by 92% of the population. I pulled this number out of my butt. I have not seen any discussion about headstand benches recently? Inversion tables are magnificent for whole body decompression. Suggestion: Get acupuncture afterwards and “cure all disesaes including dropsy, piles and lumbago.” With inversion tables you control the degree of inversion!

    I lead half headstand/dolphin with no weight on the head and let the “advanced” yogis go farther if they must, because they must. If a new student is pushing into a disaster, I forcefully tell them to come down. But the highly pranafied yogi, with all the correct genetic advantages, I let them go. I lead legs on the wall, or half shoulderstand with a zabuton only.

    I lead no chatturanga ever to the dismay of many “badass” yogis who surround my neighborhood. They believe the myth that chatturanga is safe for everyone, just so long as they learn “correct alignment”. Ha! These are often the same people who believe in YOLO. I lead only “puffy” planks. What I enjoy are classes with almost no repetition. really slow, long holds. Basic simple fundamental poses with lots of squirmy stuff inbetween.

    One last thing, the term ‘Universal principles of alignment” was first coined by Richard Freeman, to which he quickly recanted and swore off the whole delusion.

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