Shoulderstand is known as the Mother of asanas. The whole body benefits from this pose. “It is one of the greatest boons conferred on humanity by our ancient sages.” It rejuvenates the thyroid and parathyroid glands, improves circulation, soothes the nerves, clears the sinuses, stimulates the digestive organs, etc. “(I)f a person regularly practices Sarvangasana he will feel new vigor and strength, and will be happy and confident.” (Light on Yoga, B.K.S. Iyengar)
Caution: That said, we have to be very careful doing this pose. The pose is meant for intermediate/advanced yoga practitioners because it is a complicated arrangement of the body and must be done with care to avoid injury. It is not recommended while working through a neck, shoulder, or head injury. Let yourself heal. You are advised against doing this pose if you are experiencing diarrhea, headache, high blood pressure, or menstruation (there are different schools of thought on inversions while menstruating. The idea is that you want your energetic flow to continue to move downward until menstruation stops. Inversions reverse the flow.), and pregnancy (unless you’re experienced with this pose).
Now, let’s break it down. First, set up a blanket (or two or three) wide across the mat about one foot below the top short edge of your mat. Iron the blanket(s) out with your hand so they are smooth.
Fold the bottom edge of the mat over the blanket so that the arms don’t slip.
Lay down with the shoulders supported by the blanket (head of the upper arm bone is about an inch below the edge of the blanket). The head is on the mat only, not the blankets. Assess whether the neck feels flat (you need more blankets), over-curved to the point that the chin is lifted (you need fewer blankets), or right in the middle (the neck is in it’s neutral curved shape and the chin is perpendicular to the floor.) Be sure you can breathe easily. Roll the shoulderblades underneath the heart, but try to keep the head of the upper arm bones as high as the base of the neck (meaning you don’t want to over roll your shoulders under to the point that the chest is overly stretched and the upper back cannot strengthen). Lift the pelvic floor (Mula Banda), scoop below the navel in and up (Uddiyana Banda). Plant the feet on the floor.
Keep the curve in the neck, engage the core and grab the bottom edge of the folded mat to keep the shoulders back. Push the hands down and swing the legs overhead. They may be bent or straight. *DO NOT MOVE YOUR HEAD WHILE THERE IS WEIGHT ON IT*
Walk the hands up the back as close to the shoulderblades as possible, fingers point up, palms push the back toward the chin, navel pulls back toward the spine, legs engage (they can still be bent). Lift the legs up slowly enough to continue a steady breath and to be able to monitor the body to check that everything is still in good alignment.
Stay for 5 breaths to 5 minutes.
To exit the pose, continue to hold the upper back, drop the toes to the floor overhead (Halasana – you can hold this pose for another 10 breaths) or drop bend knees into the chest. You can hold your back, or hold the mat to keep the shoulders back and neck relaxed as you roll down using core, arm and leg strength to lower one vertebra at a time.
Whew! Congratulations on your newfound vigor, strength, happiness, and confidence!
Our doors are open! We would love to help you to develop a shoulderstand practice in studio. Here is our schedule, or you can schedule a private lesson with Christian or me, Brandee by emailing us here.