Podcast #54 - Are headstands safe? - Ariana Rabinovitch Yoga and Movement Education Google+



Podcast #54 – Are headstands safe?

The Yoga and Movement Research Series

Jules Mitchell and I discuss a study about headstands from 2014. This is the first study of its kind that assessed loads on the neck and head in headstand.  We had different reactions to this study. When I read it, it reinforced my decision to exclude headstands from my practice and group classes. When she read it, it didn’t change her mind about excluding it from group classes, but she went back to headstands in her personal practice.

There’s some data presented in this study (from referenced sources) that at face value can be alarming about the amount of force on the head and neck, and risks of fracture with compression and extension in the cervical spine. However Jules provides us with context about how those studies were conducted that made the data less alarming. As Jules likes to say, one study does not a conclusion make. This pioneering study opens the door to more questions and does not allow us to make definitive conclusions about the right or wrong ways to do headstand.

Jules Mitchell is a Yoga Educator, Biomechanist and contributor to the Yoga and Movement Research Project (YAMResearch.com)


  • This is the first study that looks at how much load the head and neck bear in headstand. They compare three ways of coming into headstand: SE – symmetrically extended (piking up), AF – asymmetrically flexed (kicking up), SF – symmetrically flexed (hopping up with knees bent).
  • 51% experienced loads above 300N in the neck, ranging from 40-48% of their body weight.
  • Those that came into the pose by piking up had the least amount of load in the neck. Perhaps if there is a need to minimize load in the neck then this is the preferred way to come up.
  • Those that came up fast asymmetrically had the most loads on the head and neck. Those that came up slow had the least amount of force in the neck.
  • The study was good but the data presented in it are underwhelming. Jules spent a lot of time analyzing the articles they referenced.
  • Some of the cited studies were done on cadavers, spine segments, or from animal tails. So it’s hard to use data from those studies and apply it to how living human tissues work.
  • Jules mentions an article by Matthew Remski about headstands.
  • Tim Gabbot’s excellent article on the training paradox.

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One Response to Podcast #54 – Are headstands safe?

  1. David Lloret March 3, 2017 at 6:32 AM #

    Thank you so much for all this information. It is wonderful to see how you apply the scientific method to question again and again what to do. I would like to make just a couple of remarks:

    – the paper finds that those who get into the pose with straight legs get less weight. But couldn’t it be that they manage to reduce the weight just because they are stronger and able to bear their legs like that? Those who can’t are actually weaker in their shoulders and thus they put more weight. We are missing to see how those in the fit group manage with getting into the pose with legs bent etc…

    – the static phase lasts 5 breaths. This is extremely short compared to standard practice, typically lasting 5 to 10 minutes (sometimes with difficult variations). It would be very interesting to measure how the pressure evolves over the time. Are we able to keep the strength? Does it get dangerous after a certain time?

    As a teacher I am very much concerned with the safety of the poses I teach. At the same time, I don’t want my students to miss their potencial benefits and sensations. That’s our challange.
    Again thank you for your inspiration.

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