Wall-supported Partial Shoulder-stands - Issues and solutions
List of some of the issues that can be relevant for practising this pose:
· Head below heart and legs
· Neck (two issues)
· Chest (three issues)
· Lumbar spine
· Legs : Sacro-iliac joints and knees
Head below heart and legs
Although having the head below the heart and legs is beneficial for most people, this is potentially unhelpful or dangerous for a few these are people for whom there is
already a risk of stroke or too much pressure in the head. For this reason, taking the head below the heart is usually considered unwise for those with conditions such as:
high blood pressure; previous history of stroke; tendency to headaches or migraines; and, possibly, for certain eye conditions like glaucoma. In addition, if one currently
has a cold or a headache, having the head below the heart and legs may well feel uncomfortable. As with so many precautions, issues of whether they apply to you can
determined by observing how you feel if taking the head below the heart in this pose causes the following sensations then avoid doing so (if not then it is unlikely you
will come to harm doing so) : feeling flushed or hot in the head or face; increased feeling of pressure in the head or feelings of pressure pulses; face looking red; feelings
of discomfort in the head or face. One approach, if this is relevant for you, is to lift into, and lower out of, the pose with the breath i.e. with no holding of the pose.
Alternatively, one can practise lying on ones back and resting legs either up a wall or on something like a sofa.
Neck (two issues)
In the full version of this pose, the neck is strongly flexed
and so one might expect this pose to be a problem for those with neck problems. In practice, when
using a wall to aid lifting into, and lowering from, a shoulder-stand, one can easily take care only to lift as far into the pose as the neck is ready for. The key point with
all shoulder-stands is that they are shoulder-stands and not neck-stands the weight of the body should not move significantly into the neck or back of the head the
aim is that the weight of the body is supported by the shoulders (and sometimes arms). However, even for healthy necks, it is important to have the neck aligned with the
rest of the spine (i.e. the head should not be tilted or twisted to one side and the back of the neck should be long) before lifting into the pose if the neck is going to be
significantly flexed. Some people suggest practising the pose with a blanket under the shoulders (and rest of trunk) but not under the head this reduces the degree of
flexion in the neck, while leaving in place other beneficial aspects of the pose.
The other issue to consider is that the thyroid gland
is squeezed by strong neck flexion this is generally desirable but for some thyroid disorders (over-active
thyroids) this squeezing can make matters worse (by stimulating it further).
Chest (three issues)
When holding this pose, the breath can feel restricted. The spine and ribs tend not to move much in the pose leaving the main breathing action to
the diaphragm. In contrast to when the trunk is upright, with the trunk inverted, the diaphragm supports the abdomen organs and, when it contracts (for inhalation), it has
to lift the abdominal organs. This is generally beneficial for the diaphragm as the extra work helps to strengthen it. However, some people may find this uncomfortable
at first and feel that they cant breath (cf. asthma) such people need not hold the pose, but can move in and out of it until they feel comfortable holding it.
In this pose the heart has to work harder than when standing due to the need to pump blood to the feet which are higher above the heart than the crown
of the head usually when standing. This is generally beneficial for the heart as it gives it a bit of a work-out helping it to stay fit and strong. However, for those with
an already compromised heart, there is some danger that the heart will be asked to do more than it can cope with. Such people should feel /listen to how their hearts are
responding and should only hold the pose for short periods (if at all) until the heart has built up its strength and stamina. That said, the wall supported versions of shoulder-stand
are much less strenuous for the heart than most non-wall supported versions.
In most versions of this pose, the thoracic spine is in a significant degree of flexion. When practised as part of a sequence of asanas that balances
the forward bending and back bending of the spine, this is usually fine and indeed helpful. However, as we get older, the spine tends to become less flexible in a way that
leaves the thoracic spine in greater degrees of flexion for those to whom this has happened, one might consider this pose as something that will encourage this unhelpful
trend. So, taking care to spend time strengthening the upper back muscles and mobilizing the spine (for back-bending) will be important (as it is anyway) if one wishes to
practise this pose if one has a significant degree of excessive thoracic kyphosis.
In the process of lifting into this pose, the lower back is moved through a significantly flexed position this is great for those who tend towards excessive lumbar lordosis
(or who have been over-doing back bends). But those who have strained their backs in a forward bending position may find the pose tends to cause discomfort in which
case they should omit practice until their back has healed. This risk is less then it might appear because the lumbar spine hangs suspended from the pelvic girdle and thus is
in mild traction.
Legs : Sacro-iliac joints and knees
Both knees and sacro-iliac joints have the potential to be in a vulnerable position here but, unlike with the bridge pose (see the issues and solutions for bridge pose), the
forces acting across these joints are not very great. Nevertheless, it is sensible to take care to ensure that the feet are parallel and pointing away from the buttocks.
Practising yoga in the first trimester is considered by most yoga teachers to be contra-indicated. The only explanation I have
heard for this is that in the first trimester there is a fairly high tendency for spontaneous miscarriage and this could in principle be exacerbated
by yoga (although, as far as I know, there is no evidence for this). Possibly a mid-wife or an expert pregnancy yoga teacher might be able to
give a better explanation.
In the later stages of pregnancy one of the issues that needs to be borne in mind is that the womb starts to press against the inferior vena cava (main vein in the trunk) and
the aorta (main artery). This has implications for blood circulation to and from the legs. It is thus unwise to lie on ones back (with the womb resting on top of the main vein
and artery in the trunk) for more than a very short period - with risks of discomfort, and an increased likelihood, over the long term, of getting varicose veins or tissue fluid
issues (oedema) in the legs. That said, it is often recommended for pregnant women to lie on their backs to rest their legs either on a support like a sofa or up a wall. In the
wall-supported version of the shoulder-stand, the abdomen is allowed to stay relaxed and weight of womb and fetus rests against the diaphragm (as well as the back of the
abdominal cavity) with some release of the usual pressing down against the pelvic floor (which can be helpful). This makes wall-supported versions of shoulder-stands perhaps
one of the safest forms of inversion to try while pregnant provided of course that you listen carefully to what your body is saying about what it wants.