Inversions, such as headstand (Sirsasana) and shoulder stand (Sarvangasana), are often considered “royal” poses by Hatha Yoga practitioners. Some students and teachers consider inversions to be of the utmost importance in their personal Hatha Yoga practice.
While there are many benefits from inversions, students with pre-existing medical conditions, are put at risk unnecessarily. When we have no health problems, it is easy to put issues of risk and contraindications aside, but Yoga teachers and students should do their research.
In the case of students who have a history of strokes, within their family, or who have previously had a stroke, the approach to inversions should be “Extreme Caution.” Below is a question and answer session regarding the safety measures, contraindications, and information that should be readily available for Yoga teachers and students alike.
Q: I have a new student who had a stroke in the past year. I keep hearing cautions and contraindications about “recent strokes.” How recent, is recent? What should I know about helping her into wheel pose (Chakrasana), preparation for headstand, shoulder stand, or any other inversions?
A: About inversions for students who are at risk, with pre-existing medical conditions, such as strokes: I would not advise them, whether the stroke was recent, or not.
This person is at extreme risk when performing any posture where she is in a full inversion. There is also a fair amount of risk any time she puts her head below heart level, whether it is a forward fold or a back bend, such as wheel pose.
Here’s why: Strokes can occur for a variety of reasons. Among these causes – Blood clots, broken off pieces of artery plaque, and other masses, are commonly related causes of strokes. Once there is a blockage of blood to the brain, you have a stroke, due to the lack of oxygen and nutrients getting to the brain.
Unfortunately, your student has a pre-existing medical condition. I wouldn’t turn a student upside down, who was in any risk category related to an inverted posture. I know this sounds harsh, but I doubt your student has her “doctor’s consent.” You may want to insist on it. A “doctor’s note” would be advisable.
This is for her protection, as well as yours. In her case, we are concerned with her health, safety, and well being. In your case – if she is injured, due to participating in your class, you have to live with it; and any resulting lawsuit could test the limits of your liability insurance.
For the record: Other contraindications, for inverted Yoga postures, include epilepsy, heart conditions, neck injuries, high blood pressure, glaucoma, and other eye problems. There is also significant debate about whether a student should pursue full inversions during menstruation and pregnancy. In all of these cases, the advice of a physician should be sought.
© Copyright 2009 – Paul Jerard / Aura Publications