As it’s almost Halloween, today I’m talking about the scariest yoga poses that I see being taught. Scary poses are ones which carry a lot of potential risks, especially when they’re taught in a class consisting of people with different experiences, histories, body shapes, sizes and conditions – pretty much any class! I’m particularly talking about poses which put a lot of stress on joints and poses which are risky to get in and out of.
So here’s my list of potentially harmful poses in order of least to most hazardous.
Bridge pose with clasped hands underneath
This pose is not super scary, but I’m not a fan of it. Your feet are on the floor and you’re lying on your back. You lift your hips up, walk your shoulders in underneath, clasp your hands, and then a lot of instructors will tell you to really press the elbows straight. The reason I don’t like to see this pose being taught is that very few people can do this in a balanced way. What happens is that most people overextend their shoulders because they just don’t have the thoracic extension. This creates tension in your shoulders, lower back and neck. So I really prefer bridge pose with the hands by the sides or somewhere else.
Again, not a super scary pose, but there are just so many better ways of accomplishing more extension in the spine, hips and knees. Reverse plank is a version of reverse table but with the knees straight and the head thrown back. You have your feet on the floor, hands facing in the same direction as your feet, and then you lift your hips up, put your legs out straight if they aren’t already, and drop the head back. The shoulders and the knees are put in a kind of wonky position.
Fish pose with the top of the skull on the floor and the legs straight up
In fish pose you lie on your back then prop yourself up on your elbows, thrusting your chest up. If you just have your head dangling, that’s not actually too bad. But when you put the top of your skull on the floor, and then lift the legs straight up, I don’t like that at all. Your cervical spine is hyperextended and there’s weight placed on it. And then you place even more of a load on your cervical spine by lifting the legs straight. Some people then put the palms of their hands together, and that makes me really hold my breath. It’s dangerous to get in and out of because your neck is hyperextended and you’re putting weight through the skull.
Kurmasana is where you are sitting down on your butt with your legs wide in a straddle position and then you slide your arms under your upper thighs and try to lower your chest to the ground. So it’s a huge hamstring and adductor stretch. And then what are you doing with the shoulders? Holy moly. You’re loading the shoulders with your legs, and can anybody get out of that pose? I’ve literally heard someone’s hamstring pop in that position.
I don’t teach headstands at all. I want to keep my cervical vertebrae in alignment as much as possible. I do not want to load my head. Right underneath the skull is an artery where this massive huge blood supply to the brain comes in, so I don’t want to put putting weight anywhere near that in case of injury.
Kapotasana starts off like camel pose (I’m not against camel pose, by the way. I like to get into it very carefully so that the curves of the spine are balanced. It’s a bigger backbend so it needs a lot of prep work.) For kapotasana you’re on your knees, leaning back for camel, but then you continue to bring your head down between your feet and your hands to your feet. So you’re in this massive backband. There are some people who can get there. And those are the people who shouldn’t be getting there because most likely they’re getting there from their hyper flexibility. And getting out of that is really challenging. It’s almost like you’re a rubber band that’s been popped. I get scared anytime I see somebody working on this because there is a risk of things not going mechanically well.
So for all these scary poses, you might have a short-term ability to get into the pose, but long-term you can create biomechanical stress and I want you to preserve your ability to practice for as long as possible. If you wanted to work on any of these individually one on one, I wouldn’t be so worried (except for headstand and fish pose with the weight bearing on your head – I would never recommend anything with weight bearing on your head.) But if you’re teaching or learning yoga in a class setting, you cannot account for all the different bodies and injuries in the class, so I don’t recommend any of those poses.
Lastly, Happy Halloween! It’s a really special day for me. Check in with me tomorrow, and you’ll see why.