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Shoulder Stand Sarvangasana
Shoulder Stand Method
Shoulderstand, or Salamba Sarvangasana in Sanskrit, the classical language of yoga, is also nick-named "The Queen of the Asanas," because it is such a beneficial posture. Simpler than Headstand, it is a good for students at late beginner or intermediate level to start learning.
Avoid it if you have back or shoulder problems, high blood pressure, or eye conditions like detached retina, which will be exacerbated by the increased blood pressure to the head and upper body that inverting the body causes. Many teachers recommend that women avoid inversion during their menses. It is important to know your own body and recognize its boundaries. If practicing a pose doesn't feel right for you on a given day, rest or do a simpler, restorative practice instead, or simply meditate.
To begin, lie on your back in Svasana, the relaxation position, then swing your feet and legs over your head and right away support your lower back. At the beginning, you may find it enough to keep a slight angle at the hips to help balance, and feel a lot of weight in the hands and arms. Hold the position for three to five breaths, then place the hands on the floor below your hips, and using your hands as brakes, come down to lying flat on your back again.
How to do a Shoulderstand and Variations
Shoulder Stand Sarvangasana Beginner Variation
Shoulder Stand Benefits
There are many benefits to a regular Shoulder Stand practice. These include:
- turning the body upside down reverses the effect of gravity and slows down the effects of aging
- turning upside down returns metabolic wastes and antibodies, which pool in the lower body and in the lower parts of the organs, to the heart for cleansing or recirculation. All inversions help boost the immune system and assist with cellular cleansing.
- increased blood flow to the face nourishes the skin and hair, supporting clear, bright skin and shining hair
- increased blood flow to the brain clears thinking
- squeezing the chin into the neck tones and massages the thyroid and parathyroid glands, which control the metabolic rate and the body's uptake of calcium
- holding the balance in the posture tones the core and strengthens the muscles of the abdomen and back
- holding the posture quiets the mind
Fish in Lotus Variation Matsyasana
Bridge Setu Bandasana
Full Shoulder Stand Sarvangasana
From half Shoulder Stand, shown above, if you are ready to go deeper, walk your elbows closer together behind your back to come right up on your shoulders, and walk your hands up your back toward your shoulder blades. Press your abdomen toward your face, and work your body up towards vertical. The closer your body is to vertical, the easier it is to hold the pose. Once you can come fully into the posture, you will feel your weight balanced on a triangle of the two tips of the shoulders and the occipital ridge at the back of the skull. There should be very little weight on the neck. If it hurts your neck to start, try folding a blanket in eighths and placing the folded blanket under your spine with the tips of the shoulders on the blanket and the head off. Then, as your lift up into Shoulder Stand, the shoulders will be elevated slightly, enough to lift the C-7 vertebra, the large bone in the base of the neck, off the floor.
In the full posture, feel the chin pressing into the neck, massaging the thyroid gland at the base of the neck. As your body opens to the pose, keep walking your hands further up your back and walking your elbows closer together. Hold the thighs together and keep lifting them out of the hips. Relax the feet, without pointing the toes, to allow the blood to drain freely from the lower limbs.
Hold for five to ten breaths in stillness, then move to variations or lower the feet toward the floor behind your head into Plough Halasana position, bring your hands to the floor behind your lower back, and using the hands as brakes, lower the spine with control to the floor. Then relax in Svasana, the relaxation position on the back, for a few breaths and allow the full benefits of the posture to be integrated in the body and energy field.
Because it folds the spine and neck forward on the way up and on the way down, Shoulder Stand Sarvangasana is the counter pose for the backbends Fish Matsyasana and Bridge Setu Bandasana. Practicing Shoulder Stand after these postures allows the spine to re-set its natural curves.
Shoulder Stand Sarvangasana
Shoulder Stand Easier Variations
Simpler variations include Reverse Pose and Legs up the Wall. These are both less athletic variations of shoulder Stand with many of the same benefits.
Legs Up the Wall Viparita Karani
Turn your body upside down!
Do you practice Shoulder Stand?
Shoulder Stand Sarvangasana Advanced Variations
More advanced variations include bringing the soles of the feet together in Baddha Konasana, knees open to the side. Twist the hips and legs to one side, hold for five breaths in an inverted twist, then twist to the opposite side and hold for the same time.
Or fold the legs in full or half Lotus Padmasana if your hips allow, and hold the position and breathe.
Advanced practitioners who can hold the body vertical balancing on the shoulders and head with little weight in the hands can move to the Candlestick variation, with the hands along the thighs.