When teaching a yoga class it is the teacher’s responsibility to do everything they can to help keep their students safe. So knowing and listing contraindications for poses is a must in my book. But today in teacher training class several experienced students told me they had never heard a yoga teacher list the reasons you shouldn’t do inversions.
Inversions are fun poses which offer tremendous health benefits and can help individuals overcome fear and build confidence. But too often students are rushing into poses like shoulderstand, headstand or forearm balance without learning the proper foundation and slowly building the strength to enter these poses safely. Pattabhi Jois was fond of saying, “slowly, slowly,” which most definitely applies to approaching turning upside down in which you shift your weight out of the lower extremities and toward the upper body. If done incorrectly, this can not only exacerbate existing conditions, but also cause new injury.
Before teaching inversions in every class I have made it a practice to list contraindications and give alternatives to students who might be experiencing them. These include, the first three days (or any heavy day) of a woman’s menstrual cycle, serious neck or shoulder injury, high blood pressure not regulated by medication, intracranial pressure, glaucoma, detached retina, or if you just don’t feel like it. I add this last option for any individual who might fear they’re being judged or who is sensitive to having any of the aforementioned conditions. The alternative is to either practice some version of viparita karani (legs up the wall) or perhaps another calming pose like child’s pose or pigeon if inverting isn’t feeling okay at that moment.
In my almost fifteen years of yoga teaching I have actually had students in class with every single one of these conditions and I’m so thankful I knew to list them. I had a student with glaucoma, detached retina, high blood pressure, and even a cranial aneurysm. The importance of knowing the contraindications and understanding them cannot be overemphasized. It is important to note that even if you do list them some students with a condition may opt to ignore your advice and practice them anyway. Though you can rest easier knowing that at least you suggested otherwise.