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Wall-supported Partial Shoulder-stands - Issues and solutions

List of some of the issues that can be relevant for practising this pose:

Wall-supported Partial Shoulder-stands Potential Problem Areas Image
            · Head below heart and legs

            · Neck (two issues)

            · Chest (three issues)

            · Lumbar spine

            · Legs : Sacro-iliac joints and knees

            Pregnancy






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 one’s 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)

Breathing. 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 can’t breath (cf. asthma) – such people need not hold the pose, but can move in and out of it until they feel comfortable holding it.

Heart. 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.

Thoracic Spine. 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.


Lumbar spine

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.


Pregnancy

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 one’s 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.

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