Handstands Heal

Today we'd like to share a special post written by distinguished yogi and creator of Microsoft's Bing Fitness Yoga, Heidi Kristoffer. This post was previously published on Heidi's blog and covers the magic of yoga and inversions in treating both degenerative and traumatic spinal injuries. I found Heidi a few weeks ago while I was doing more research on my own back injury and immediately could relate to her story.

Like Heidi and millions of other Americans, I myself have been dealing with bad back pain for the last two years due to three degenerated discs in my thoracic spine. After spending thousands of dollars trying everything from physical therapy to chiropractic, acupuncture and even epidural injections without success, I finally found the same treatment plan that cured Heidi: yoga and inversions.

If you are struggling to deal with back or neck pain at any level, please read this post. Even if you have no interest in taking on a yoga practice, you may find that an inversion table gives you the relief you've been craving for years. Both yoga and inversions can help keep your spine lengthened and healthy for years to come. Happy Healing!

Here's Heidi's story:

When I was 18, I was in a serious car accident that let to what I was told would be "permanent damage" to my neck and cervical spine. My doctors at the time told me that I would never regain full mobility in the movement of the neck. I went to physical therapy for a few months, followed by years of chiropractic work. 

Upon moving to NYC after college, I stopped all of that treatment, as it didn’t seem to do anything for the amount of pain that I experienced in my neck and upper back. (I wasn’t quite sure what it was doing at all, other than taking up a lot of my time and money.) 

Then, I started practicing yoga. I had heard it was good for your back, so I was decidedly optimistic about making it all feel better, which it did, quite a bit!  Then, I started practicing headstands. Then, things did not feel so good.  In fact, my back down right revolted – going into spasm every place possible. 

When I finally went to get it checked out, the MRI of my Cervical Spine revealed a herniated disc between C-5 and C-6 (a result of the trauma from the car accident.) I was told by my doctors in no uncertain terms to cease practicing headstands immediately. I did. As I result, my body began to thrive with my yoga practice: feel better, longer and stronger each and every day. Skip to a bit later in my practice, when I started playing around with handstands and forearm stands. Along with the herniated disc in my neck, I also have two broken vertebrae in my lumbar spine. As a result, when I approach the physical postures of yoga, it has always been extremely important to me to focus on core work and strengthening even the tiniest of muscles that surround the spine, seeing as the alternative was surgery, which was not something I was interested in.

It is no secret that I LOVE inversions. Any time it feels right, and I have the opportunity, I am upside down. Jump back? Handstand. Jump forward? Handstand. Standing Split? Handstand. Bad mood? Go upside down, I’ll flip my perspective and literally turn my frown upside down. Neck hurts? Inversion time so I can feel gravity lengthening out my spine. Shoulder tight? Forearm stands are my favorite remedy – feels soooo great! The last couple of years of my life have been spent largely upside down – it makes me feel grounded, strong, long, and so, so happy.

A few weeks ago, I went in to get a check-up MRI on my cervical spine. When I went to go see my doctor for the results, he informed me with incredulity that the herniation in my neck was gone! I had successfully re-lengthened my cervical spine through all of the yoga and inversions, reversing the damage, healing my neck! My doctor fully supports this theory: the healing is a result of the lengthening and strengthening from yoga and inversions.

Handstands heal! How cool is that?!

I've experienced the healing powers of yoga firsthand -- has yoga healed you as well?

About Heidi:

"Heidi is the creator and producer of Microsoft Bing Fitness Yoga, Creator of CrossFlowX, creator and star of Revive Yoga with Heidi Kristoffer, as well as yoga and vegan expert for SHAPE.com. Heidi is a yoga instructor who leads workshops and retreats across the globe and at The Movement in NYC . Known for her happy, light-hearted approach, Heidi’s goal is to make yoga and deliciously healthy eating accessible to everyone. A former award winning actress of stage, film and television, Heidi makes it her mission to bring happiness to everyone through every medium.

Rated one of the: Hottest Trainers in America 2014 by Shape Magazine, most inspiring yoga teachers in the world by DoYouYoga, and most popular instructors in NYC by RateYourBurn, Heidi has been featured on Veria Living Live TV, interviewed by and featured in SHAPE, Harper's Bazaar, Cosmopolitan Germany, and many other publications."  - Mind Body Green

Find Heidi or facebook or visit her website.

I would highly encourage everyone with back or neck pain to give yoga a try. If you'd like to do inversions and simulate the effect of handstands, without the yoga, you can buy an inversion table. Before I found yoga, this is what I used 3-5 times a day to lengthen my spine and get relief. Inversions of all kinds will help to restore fluid to degenerated spinal discs and lengthen muscles that have been in compression for years. 

Cheers and Happy Healing!