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Over the past few years, inversions have become some of my favorite asanas. From sirsasana (headstand), salamba sarvangasana (shoulderstand), and pincha mayurasana (forearm stand), to adho mukha vrksasana (handstand), I really enjoy them all. Perhaps it harkens back to my days hanging from the jungle gym in school – nothing quite beats the feeling of being upside down.
Being upside down has its risks, however. Just as there are safety concerns that prompt many communities to ban jungle gyms and monkey bars from their playgrounds, there are reasons why chiropractors, physiotherapists, and massage therapists among others would prefer that we not balance on our heads and necks. However, when the mechanics and function are understood, injury can be easily avoided.
When our bodies are inverted, the spine progresses in the opposite direction – from bottom to top, the vertebrae now move from small to large – and the weight-bearing function of the relatively large pelvis, legs, and feet becomes the function of the relatively smaller scapulae, arms, hands, and their surrounding myofascia. It makes sense that injury can easily occur.
So what to do?
Whether you are on your hands as in adho mukha vrksasana, on your forearms as in pincha mayurasana, on your head and forearms as in sirsasana, or using your neck in any way as with salamba sarvangasana, be sure to set your foundation well.
Here is how: Keep the thoracic spine in mind and connect to the largest joints first.
There are many ways to teach each of these yoga asanas, and their common thread is how the thoracic (or middle) section of the spine connects with the shoulder joints via the scapulae, the shoulder blades. When balance is established here, strength and balance arise easily in the arms for a solid, stable, and safe inversion. When balance is not established, compensations occur – such as the ribs poking forward (banana-ing), or as is common in sirsasana, placing too much weight on the neck rather than on the shoulder girdles.