Neck pain or tension has become as common as saying ” I have to go to the bathroom.” But does it have to be this way? No.
I posted an article to my Facebook page today about doing Sirsasana (headstand) in yoga class. As a teacher, I rarely teach headstand in a group setting. A student loads 40-48% of force on their tiny little necks and ( yes, even when you activate the shoulders properly). As the article says, “for an average 150 pound person it’s like putting a 60-70 pound weight on your head”.
Are the pseudo science benefits of headstand really worth the risk? Fresh blood to the brain, really? If you’re arteries and veins are working properly you’re getting fresh blood when you stand on your feet too! Increased circulation to the scalp? A good head massage can do the same thing.
In case you missed the memo about how important your neck is, let’s review a few facts you should know!
You have a ton of nerves that run through the neck, like the ones that are involved in every major function in your body. The Phrenic nerve is the main nerve for the diaphram ( which is responsible for you breathing) and runs under the scalenes ( major group of neck muscles that flex and rotate your neck). These muscles also attach to rib 1 and 2 and help elevate the rips every time you take a breath!
You also have the brachial plexus nerves which run down the neck and arm. These nerves control the muscles of the shoulder, elbow, wrist and hand, as well as provide feeling in the arm. And the Vagus nerve, which is a major communicator between the organs and brain when we need to chill out and relax ( parasympathetic arousal). This nerve helps to counter act our stress response.
Compromising these nerves just to get into a headstand has never been top on my priority list, even if they are fun! And they are fun! I highly recommend you reconsider the benefits of headstand versus the risk, even if you do headstand with proper alignment. Is it really worth it?
I am by no means saying, “Don’t do headstand.” I am saying be very, very careful and specific if you do. Headstand isn’t the only risk to creating neck problems. The stress response(sympathetic arousal), poor postural habits done for long periods of time ( like sleeping positions, sitting positions or engaging with our electronic devices) are equally ,if not more so problematic to creating neck pain/problems!
Tight neck muscles, herniated or slipped discs, which can be caused by trauma, headstands, an over activated stress response, or bad postural habits will create an unhappy friendship with the nerves that run through the neck!
Don’t make your neck a “frenemy”. Support your spine and the natural lordotic curve of the neck ( and lower back by sitting properly, meaning not hunched or the neck jutting forward. Sleep with proper neck support while laying on your back.( I know, I’m a belly and side sleeper too, but I’ve retrained myself with decent success!) You can buy a pillow that naturally supports the curve in your neck for pretty cheap on amazon. Lastly, don’t do unnecessary physical actions to place your neck at risk for injury.
Basically, stop being a pain in you neck!