Several years ago I accepted the fact that I could no longer practice headstand (sirsasana). Each time I would try this magnificent pose - called the "father" of all asana - I would deal with headaches a few hours later. For a while, I refused to let that stop me and kept trying to find ways to practice it. Like a good scientist, I would experiment: was it more likely to happen in certain arm positions than others? What about the time of the day? Or if I tried this pose at the beginning of practice versus at the end?
Frustrated, I had x-rays taken of my cervical spine and my doctor told me I had an unexpected amount of bone degeneration in certain parts of my neck; he compared it to what the neck of a professional linebacker looks like, absorbing repetitive compressive forces around the head, neck and shoulders. So, no headstand for me, and he told me shoulder stand (sarvanghasana) was probably risky, too.
I was very disappointed... But not deterred. I began to study the different aspects of this pose, and broke them into 3 areas:
Instead of practicing 1 pose, I now practice 3 poses, each achieving the above affects. You can see these poses depicted in the image.
This study and experiment has felt a little bit like an evolution for me. Adapting my practice so that I still received many of the same benefits but without harming my body is a practice of saying "yes" when I might feel the answer is a strong "no".
In November, I'll be co-leading a workshop for yoga teachers who want to learn how to adapt postures to fit the needs of their students. It is highly unlikely that a teacher has a practice with no limitations, but each of us experience limitations in different ways. Our goal for this workshop is to give teachers the skills they need to be able to coach their students into saying yes when a pose makes them feel like they want to say no.
If you are a yoga teacher reading this and want to know more, look up Breaking it Down for Teachers: Adapting Postures for All Abilities with Lorien Neargarder and Talya Lutzker