Standing on my head?
Yeah - I hung out far more on my head than on my feet as a child.
Yoga only normalized my obsession with being upside down on my noggin! I mean, salamba sirsasana is known as the King of Yoga Poses because of its exhaustive list of health benefits.
I spent most of my early years on the yoga mat on my head - ten minute timings, headstand drop overs, endless tick-tocks, surfing gravity from headstand to various arm balances, and of course mandalasana, where you walk (or jog!) around your head in both directions.
About 7 or 8 years ago I started cycling more frequently, and developed some neck issues which I cleared up by refitting my bike. In that process I had gotten an x-ray to make sure everything was okay.
The x-ray revealed degenerative discs in C5 and C6. I was devastated.
When I saw the diminished size of my discs, all I could think of was the compression I might have caused by standing on my head all those years. I surmised that the "head forward" posture I'd adopted from using a smart phone and computer could not have helped either.
Right then and there I made a decision to stop standing on my head forever and dropped the pose from my practice.
In yoga trainings, I would still teach headstand, but gave all sorts of disclaimers about how the game had changed in the modern world and now you need to be extra cautious with how technology has impacted our cervical spines. I told them about my discs. I gave everyone ample encouragement not to practice the pose.
But then in January of 2017, all of that changed with a phone call from Glo.
Glo had been getting a lot of requests from members asking for classes on headstand. Since I was such a stickler for alignment they thought I'd be the perfect teacher to create a headstand program and would I do it?
Of course I was like, "Nope. Thanks for the invitation, but I don't do headstands. I wouldn't be able to demonstrate."
Glo prodded a little - was there any way I'd reconsider? Would it be in the realm of possibility for me to try headstand again?
After 7 years of not doing it, I thought to myself. "No way."
But then it all came flashing back to me -- I had made that decision on my own with no professional input.
Had I made up a story about my neck? Maybe I should go see one of Boulder's top physical therapists and revisit the topic?
I told Glo I would think about it and get back to them and promptly made an appointment.
At the appointment, I told my PT about my C5 and C6, explained my decision from 7 years earlier, and my current dilemma.
The first question he asked was, "when you got the x-ray, did you have any pain or problems in headstand?"
"No," I replied, feeling a little silly.
He then went on to tell me about a muscle called the longus colli that sits on the anterior surface of the vertebral column, between the atlas and the third thoracic vertebra. He said that when we stand on our heads, that muscle switches on and actually stabilizes your C5 and C6.
"Oh, wow," I said, feeling increasingly even sillier, since that is exactly what my C5 and C6 had needed my whole life!
I immediately knew I had indeed made up a story, created a belief based on my x-ray, and that trying to stand on my head again was probably a good idea.
We agreed he'd do some body work on my neck and shoulders and then we could give headstand a try in the exercise room if I felt comfortable.
Sure enough I stood on my head while he observed my neck with a watchful eye. As soon as I was up, he said "your neck looks perfect, just pull your throat back a little".
I felt fine. And when I came down, I still felt fine.
For a week or so I kept practicing headstand until I got the confidence to tell Glo yes, I will do it. And the rest is history!
Not only did I film the program, but I have been practicing headstand and many variations of headstand ever since and my neck has never felt better.
And so I am thrilled to share with you my latest program on Glo, Highway to Headstand - I hope you enjoy it and it gives you the courage to try this inversion!
Perhaps it might also inspire you to let go of any stories you've told yourself about what is possible...