Question: Is there a healthy way of doing shoulder stands without wrecking the alignment in the cervicals? Are these inverted poses really that necessary?
Answer: The answer is yes, to the first question, providing the individual is aligned and healthy in the cervical vertebrae in the first place. A mat or blanket is a very useful prop. Positioned properly, the body is relieved of any anterior pressure as the chin comes forward and the head and neck flex. Fold the mat so that one side is neat and even, with at least an inch-and-a-half to two inch thickness. Position the body so the shoulders are flush with the folded end and the elbows are supported by the mat as well. The neck and head are off the mat. When the body becomes vertical there will be a small space between the back of the neck and the floor, thus allowing the neck to maintain an elongated, although flexed, position.
If you are doing this pose yourself, or adjusting someone, gently draw the chin away from the sternum. This also helps alleviate pressure in the neck.
An excellent alternative to shoulder stand is a variation that brings many of the same benefits, minus some of the potential stress. It is a modification to the bridge pose. Rather than bring the feet overhead (or on the floor behind, as in the plough) rest the feet on a chair placed arms length from the body with the arms stretched downwards from the shoulders. By pressing into the feet, the hips rise and the torso is stretched. The hands can be interlaced, moving the arms floor wards, or the hands can hold on the chair legs. The advantage of this pose over shoulder stand is that the weight is moving away from the cervicals, rather than having the body weight be directly over the head and neck. In fact, one of the main problems of shoulder stand is that when the spine isn’t strong enough or open enough to extend straight up (inverted), the body tends to collapse through the waist and this puts considerable pressure through the neck and shoulders. On the bridge pose variation, this is not a problem. The weight gets transferred through the thighs and feet, the torso is opened, and the neck and shoulders get a really delightful stretch.
In terms of the necessity to the inverted poses, I don’t think of these poses as being necessary, rather of being beneficial. Could a body achieve balance, strength, alignment and flexibility without doing headstand, handstand and shoulder stand? Yes. There are contra indications to the inverted poses, such as cervical disc problems, a woman having her menstrual period, and any pain or discomfort that occurs during the pose itself. Downward facing dog is a good substitute, because the hips are elevated and the spine and head are inverted. Other benefits to the inverted poses can be achieved in other postures. People who have varicose veins are encouraged to do the inverted poses because they stimulate venous return and counterbalance the pooling around the valves. If doing the inverted poses is not practical, laying on the back with the feet up the wall is an excellent substitute.
Other benefits to the inverted poses are stimulation of the brain, because of the increased blood supply and reversing the gravitational pull to the soft tissue, bones and viscera. These benefits may be more difficult to achieve in other asanas.
Question: Are there poses to liven up the interscapular area, especially the rhomboids?
Answer: I’m going to suggest two very simple and pleasurable stretches for this area. The first requires a post or some sort of vertical beam as a prop. The leg of a heavy piece of furniture will do. Keeping your heels down, squat with your feet approximately a foot apart. Bring your hands around the post, at the level of the shoulders. Jump back until there is a definite reach between your body and your hands. Position yourself so that your arms stretch forward, completely widening between the scapulae. Drop the head forward, to further release the trapexius. The rhomboids are stretched beautifully in this position. Continue taking up slack by moving further away from the post. Gradually increase the distance her.- the spine and the hands. This stretch is excellent for people who tend to draw their shoulders together. Also, the lumbars are in a position to lengthen, which is a benefit for those who tend to be lordotic.
A second pose is actually the reverse of the previous one, in terms of the position of the arms and scapulae. Bring your body close to a chair or a couch (your Bolting table works great). Kneel with your back facing the chair. Interlace your fingers and stretch your arms back as far as you can. Roll the shoulders back and down. Be careful to lengthen the neck, even dropping the head slightly forward. Continue pressing the hands together and drawing the arms closer to each other. Move the thoracic vertebrae forward. Open from the waistline up. The chest opens and the midscapular area is strengthened. This pose is ideal for those who suffer from midscapular pain and fatigue, particularly when associated with a collapse and narrowing in the chest For your clients who tend to draw the glenohumeml joint forward, thus pushing the thoracic spine backwards, tremendous benefit would come from this stretch.Rose’s Poses