In 2015 I’ll be highlighting a new posture each week. Find sequences, benefits, and archives here.
Following up my last post about Headstand (Sirsasana), otherwise known as the King of All Asanas, I’ll be looking at Shoulder Stand, Salamba Sarvangasana, also called the Queen of All Asanas.
Just as the benefits of Headstand go on and on, Shoulderstand is a pose that packs a HUGE bang for it’s buck. The benefits of Shoulderstand range across the board, with perhaps its most notable being the balance of the Thyroid gland (especially when it’s followed by Fish Pose). So many people suffer from a hypo/hyper-active thyroid and imbalance in this gland creates imbalance in your entire Endocrine System. Impacting your body’s ability to regulate your hormones. Hormones control nearly every process in the body: digestion and elimination as well as reproduction, stress, relaxation, happiness, depression, immunity, all are influenced by hormonal balance.
In addition, Iyengar says of Shoulderstand in Light on Yoga:
The importance of Sarvangasana cannot be over-emphasized. It is one of the greatest boons conferred on humanity by our ancient sages. Sarvangasana is the Mother of asanas. As a mother strives for harmony and happiness in the home, so this asana strives for the harmony and happiness of the human system…
This passage continues on to list the numerous benefits of the pose:
- Cures most common ailments.
- Benefits the heart and vascular system.
- Increases blood flow to the neck and chest, relieving breathlessness, palpitation and asthma.
- Soothes headaches, even chronic ones.
- Relieves constipation.
- Revitalizes and energizes
The list goes on and on.
So, better get practicing, right? Well, not so fast.
As is the case with most asana that claim big benefit, the risk involved with this pose is big, too. In fact, the vast majority of students in an average yoga class are performing this pose to their detriment.
In Sarvangasana, your body is turning completely upside down. Your weight is moving onto the tops of your shoulders and your upper arms. At the same time, your head is bent at a 90 degree angle with your chin extremely tucked into your chest. Herein lies the problem.
Most people are not flexible enough in their shoulders and necks to take this degree of bend in the neck without rounding their shoulders. This causes your weight to drop out of your upper arms and shoulders, and right into your neck. DO NOT DO NECKSTAND.
At any point, if you feel pressure in your neck in this pose you should immediately come out.
Just like Headstand, I never recommend learning this pose without an experienced teacher’s guidance. Here are some additional tips to help you keep your neck safe in this pose:
- KEEP YOUR HANDS ON YOUR BACK. There are versions of this pose where you would lift your arms alongside your body. I’ve never seen someone execute this without compromising their neck. I’m not saying it’s impossible, I’m saying you have to be an extremely advanced practitioner to pull it off and it’s not something the average Yogi will conquer (I am talking about with your legs reaching straight up here, other variations are easier in this regard).
- Use blankets under your shoulders. This opens up the 90 degree angle of the neck and will help maintain a safe curve in your back.
- Very gently press the back of your head into the floor. Do not move your chin into your chest, move your chest to your chin.
- Reach very strongly up through the legs to lift your weight out of your base. Use your hands to help with this by walking your hands towards your shoulders.
- Start in Bridge Pose. It’s much easier to get your shoulders underneath you when you begin in Bridge Pose and this sets you up for a much safer Shoulderstand.
As you can see, I take this pose very seriously. That doesn’t mean it isn’t wonderful, amazing and worth learning! Take your time and don’t underestimate the intelligence and experience involved in performing this pose. When you think you have learned Shoulderstand is when your work is only beginning!
Safe practices and Balanced Hormones abound!
Until next time, Much Love.