Shoulder stand is an excellent pose that benefits the whole body. One of the main benefits is that it is great for thyroid and parathyroid glands. While this is a very beneficial pose, if you are not in proper alignment you can strain and compress your vertebrae, especially in the neck area.
The neck (cervical spine) has seven vertebrae. Flexible disks separate all but the first two. The disks create space for spinal nerves to exit between the bones. They also allow the neck to bend and turn. The vertebrae and disks are normally arranged so the back of the neck curves inward. When curved this way, the neck bears the weight of the head most efficiently.
Reinforcing this inward curve of the neck is a ligament (the ligamentum nuchae) that runs lengthwise down the back of the neck. This ligament joins the bony spines (spinous processes) that protrude from the backs of the vertebrae. The ligamentum nuchae is more elastic than most ligaments, so it tends to spring back after it is stretched. Therefore, if your student bends her neck forward, then returns it to neutral, the ligament helps restore the inward curve.
If student has her neck too far into flexion in shoulder stand, she will strain a muscle. A more serious consequence is that she might stretch her ligamentum nuchae beyond its elastic limits. A more serious potential consequence of applying excessive force to the neck in Shoulderstand is a cervical disk injury. As the pose squeezes the front of the disks down, one or more of them can bulge or rupture to the rear, pressing on nearby spinal nerves. This can cause numbness, tingling, pain and/or weakness in the arms and hands.
With the potential injuries in mind, it is important to provide alternatives and do some warm up poses to stretch the bank, neck and shoulders.
Steps to get into shoulder stand for beginners
(Those with Neck tightness)
Swing your legs up so that your toes touch the wall, with your back supported by your hands. Come up on exhale, and as you swing up your legs, simultaneously bend your arms at the elbow and bring them in to support your back. Whilst you’re doing this, activate your pelvic floor muscles to help support and protect your back and neck. Your fingers will be pointing up towards the ceiling when your hands are on your lower back and buttocks.
If you’re a beginner, or someone who feels tightness in their neck when doing the full posture, this is excellent to work with for a while. It spreads the weight of your pelvic area on your arms, and is a great way to develop strength in your pelvic and lower back area so that you can progress to the full posture.
Another way is to support the shoulders on a prop using folded blankets in Sarvangasana, with the head at a lower level. It helps protect the neck simply by reducing the amount that it has to flex to achieve the pose. The prop opens up the angle between the neck and the body. This allows most students to perform a vertical or near-vertical Shoulderstand without neck strain. It is a useful prop to get beginners into the pose and most importantly to protect the neck from injury.
Steps to get down:
It is important to maintain the same strength and focus of your pelvic floor and abdominal muscles as you get down. From full shoulder stand, fold your body at your hips and place your feet against the wall. Bend your knees, and ‘walk’ down the wall until they are about a foot above your head. At this point, move your hands from your back to the side of your body, and press them firmly into the blankets. Unroll slowly onto the floor, using your arms to guide you. Rest, and when you’re ready to get up.
By Hazel Kok
200hrs TTC (Jan to May 2014 weekend batch)
With reference to: