As I’ve grown an interest in Iyengar yoga, I’m paying more attention to alignment. I love Iyengar alignment cues offered in so many postures! However, I don’t suggest following all of the pictures in his book, Light on Yoga. According to Dr. Roger Cole, an Iyengar teacher, “Mr. Iyengar himself demonstrates the pose [Shoulder Stand] without shoulder support in his classic book, Light on Yoga. So why does he insist that most students do it with their shoulders elevated? There are lots of good reasons, but the most important is that it can protect the neck from injury.” Dr. Cole suggests that instead of lifting legs completely vertical in this pose, go for less than vertical and balance on the back of the shoulders, or use the support of blankets. Read his article,”Protect the Neck in Shoulderstand” for more details.
This month’s Yoga Journal magazine takes the same safety approach. Their featured picture sequence includes shoulder stand and plow pose. They demonstrate it supported with blankets. Notice the extra space beneath the neck and how the chin doesn’t press into the chest. Every Iyengar class I’ve experienced so far offers blankets, bolsters and backless chairs to get us into a safe position for shoulderstand. According to the Yoga Journal, headstand should only be practiced under the care of an experienced yoga teacher. It’s true unless you’re well trained in this posture. In my own practice and teachings, I’m now exploring alternative inversions, like Legs up the Wall pose, Forearm Balance, Handstand and even Three-Legged Dog and Standing Split, to enjoy the benefits of inverting without risking injury to the neck.