Yoga has grown in popularity due to its reputed physiological and psychological benefits. In 2001, in the United States, there were 4 million yoga practitioners; in 2012 there is an estimated 20 million practitioners. Due to the rapid growth of yoga, there are teachers, schools and practitioners that are rushing through training and not properly learning certain postures/poses. There are many postures in yoga that may actually cause pain and damage if not performed properly. One such pose is called, “Sirsasana”.

Sirsasana, meaning head pose, is one of the most important and popular asanas (poses) in yoga. In this pose body is inverted, and held upright by the forearms, while the crown of the head is pressed against the floor.  The reputed benefits are that this pose may increase the flow of blood to the brain, improve memory, and help with the drainage of blood and lymph which may be  held in the legs. There are possible negative consequences to this pose as well-  increased blood pressure, heart palpitations, increased intraocular pressure (a contraindication for those with glaucoma, a detached retina, and conjunctivitis), brain injury,  neck injury, and back injury. The most common of injuries however, is compressive cervical myelopathy.

spondylolisthesis at C4-C5 with C5-C6 block vertebra.

Compressive cervical myelopathy in this case occurs when due to the excessive pressure put on the cervical spine while in flexion, causing a listhesis (slippage) of the vertebrae and thus putting pressure on the spinal cord as well as the disc(s). When one vertebrae moves out of alignment with the vertebrae above or below, a narrowing of the spinal canal (stenosis) occurs with pressure being put on the spinal cord (myelopathy). Symptoms of compressive cervical myelopathy include pain radiating into the arm or chest with finger numbness and motor weakness, blood supply to the brainstem and posterior fossa brain structures can also be affected by vertebral artery compression from spondylosis and may include dizziness, syncope, blurred vision, ringing in the ears (tinnitus), and pain behind the eyes. Practitioners of yoga, especially beginners, can easily hurt themselves while in sirvasana, and not know it for quite some time. Disc damage can occur over a long period of time without the practitioner realizing there is a problem until any of the symptoms above appear. Remember, damage and degeneration do not always happen suddenly and acutely; damage may result from a chronic cumulative stress being placed on the vertebral column. This is why it is so important to have competent as well as patient instructors in yoga. Quite often people are pressured and pushed to achieve a pose that they are not ready to properly perform. Secondly, persons with pre-existing cervical conditions which may be asymptomatic may be aggravated as well as worsened by certain poses, in this case sirsasana.

Compressive cervical myelopathy due to sirsasana. Cervical cord compression at C3-C4, C4-C5.

This article as aimed at informing yoga students and instructors of the possible risks involved with the practice of yoga. Furthermore, it must be stressed, that if at any time a practitioner feels dizziness, numbness or tingling in the arms or legs, headaches, palpitations, cervical-thoracic-lumbar pain, or any other discomfort or pain, they should seek out help from their doctor.  Also, it must be noted, that prior to engaging in the practice of yoga, a consultation with a physician is mandatory if the person has history of hypertension/hypotension, heart problems, headaches, glaucoma, tinnitus, asthma, carpal tunnel syndrome, back and neck injury, etc.

Montclair chiropractor, Dr. Eshanov, advises patients with a history of cervical, thoracic, and lumbar pain to get a chiropractic evaluation prior to engaging in yoga.  A chiropractic exam would include orthopedic tests, range of motion tests, palpation, and possibly x-rays. The purpose of the exam would be to determine which poses would be beneficial or possibly harmful to the practitioner.




(Eshanov Chiropractic offers private yoga classes and semi-private classes by certified RYT-500 level instructor, Crystal. Crystal teaches restorative yoga and has helped many students improve both their practice and feeling of well-being by working in conjunction with her husband, Dr. Eshanov. If you are looking for chiropractors in Montclair NJ, Dr. Eshanov invites you to make an appointment for an initial consultation. Dr. Eshanov of the Montclair Chiropractic Center, treats athletes, yogis, children and adults.)