It's great being a skeptic! Keeps you constantly learning as you question, well, everything.
For a long time I have listened to Yoga teachers and thought, really? Is that true? How do we know that? Are you sure? How did you discover that?
I am sure that all of us do the same thing in different situations. So, one of the myths that I believe worth exploring is the significance given to inversions.
I have had participants tell me that it can't be a REAL yoga class unless we include inversions of some type.
Myth1. The headstand and the shoulderstand are ancient poses.
Ancient Yogic texts DO NOT have pictures of asanas. Ancient Yogic texts include self awareness techniques, breathing pracitices, meditations and lenghty sacred songs. The inclusion of many different body postures appears to be a fairly recent addition (within the last 100 - 200 years).
The fourteenth-century Hatha Yoga Pradipika—the ultimate classical hatha yoga manual—lists only 15 asanas (most of them in a seated position).
According to the 'Hatha Yoga Pradipika' - "The first accessory of Hatha Yoga, âsana is described first. It should be practised for gaining steady posture, health and lightness of body".
I find it interesting that the yoga postures are described as an accessory tool. Their use is as a tool to correct posture, maintain health and quieten a restless mind. All to ultimately create a state for meditation. On this level of yoga practice the postures are not the goal, and ALL the asanas remain arbitrary and irrelevant.
The seventeenth-century Gheranda Samhita, another such manual, lists only 32 physical asanas. Missing are not just inversions but ALL of the standing poses as well.
Triangle, Warrior, etc. and the Sun Salutations that form the backbone of most contemporary systems are not mentioned. Standing postures and inversions it seems, are a very recent addition to Yoga practice and some believe that during the period of English colonisation, exposure to English gymnastics may have influenced the physical practice of yoga in India .
Aaccording to Patanjali, author of one of the most referred to yoga texts, 'The Yoga Sutras', as long as the body is aligned to stay balanced, energetic and relaxed, it's a yoga pose.
He never gave us a list of asanas, perhaps to encourage us to forever create and re-create them according to our individual body needs. Once again the mention of physical postures were given in the context of increasing mindfullness and as a preparation for meditation.
We all acknowledge that humans are designed to be upright with their feet firmly planted on the ground, doesn't it seem quite odd then that some quite respectable yogi's believe that upside down is the ultimate position to be in and an essential component of a balnced yoga class.
Don't get me wrong, I love being upside down. BUT, we must not lose sight of the fact that an athletic Yoga practice although awesome, is not an ancient practice and not a necessary component of practice.
Furthermore, the headstand and shoulder stand put massive load on the smallest and most vulnerable part of the neck. Our head is designed to be protected and balanced far away from the load of the body. Today with increasing obesity and poor muscle tone, the risk would seem higher than even 50 years ago when westerners first embraced Yogic asana practice.
Finally, with the constant use of electronic devices in a seated position, forward head position has become endemic adding to the stress on already vulnerable joints and discs of the neck. Degenerative damage to the cervical spine is already common, even in those who do not do headstand and shoulder stand. Too much pressure on the small discs and facet joints of the cervical vertebrae lead to wear and tear over time. Degenerative disc disease and facet joint arthritis may ensue, leading to chronic neck pain.
Myth: An inverted position increases the blood supply to the brain.
The brain has a very carefully controlled blood regulation system. Increased blood flow would result in a stroke and brain damage. Inverted positions MASSIVELY increase the blood pressure but not the volume. So, increasing oxygen supply to the brain would only occur if someone's blood pressure was dangerously low.
Using Yoga as a form of body work is just great and I definitely encourage it. I just want to also encourage that we keep an open mind regarding so called 'traditional' teachings.
I love being a scientist..... I can change my mind!
As new evidence is gained and new understandings are reached,
I can say 'Oh, I need to change.....'