Salamba Sarvangasana

The shoulder stand inversion

Image via yogibe on Tumblr

Within classical hatha yoga, Salamba Sarvangasana or shoulder stand is most often done following headstand in order to create an energetic balance. But one should should learn and be comfortable doing shoulder stand for 3 to 5 minutes before incorporating head stand into one' practise.

The objective is to balance the body primarily on the shoulders and elbows with minimal weight on the back of the neck or head as demonstrated Very few people are naturally as flexible as the woman in this right image and such a performance generally comes after many years of practice.  However very few people are naturally as flexible as this woman and such a performance generally comes after many years of practice.

If there is too much pressure on the back of the neck and head, there is a risk of severe neck injury which is why in these 2 videos below, the shoulders and elbows are raised to reduce the angle of the neck.

If you are attempting a shoulder stand for the first time, I strongly advise that you get guidance and/or experiment using the wall and that you have already spent sometime preparing your body.

As an inversion, shoulder stand reverses the effects of gravity for a short time and increases blood pressure into the head. It can be good for thyroid and help to drain fluids from the legs in addition to resting the internal organs but these benefits should not be sought at the risk of damaging yourself.

You can follow the instructions in these videos to obtain the pose and when your are lifted up, 99% of your weight distributed over the shoulders and elbows with support of your hands. As you work on lifting yourself up you must not have any pressure on your neck or the back of your head, instead have more weight on your elbows and shoulders.

For most people once you have the strength to lift your lower body up from the floor, the first position is to have the hands supporting under your hips and becoming able to do that without your elbows splaying out. As you work into the pose the others must stay shoulderwidth apart because this is more energy-efficient and gives the posture structural soundness without wasting energy.

In terms of the above right image, note how the toes appointed up and this is how the asana was classically taught for a very long time, however our understanding of the body has developed and there is more advantage in keeping the soles of the feet flat or more parallel to the floor. The legs can be squeezed together and extended to generate lift which in effect grows the posture and creates a sense of lightness within the body.

Once the pose can be held comfortably and you can move from the position of half shoulder stand where you have your body flexed at the hips, and your legs extended out above your head. The idea is to work your hands down toward your shoulders while keeping your elbows exactly shoulder width apart.

A good explanation and demonstration from Real Bodywork.

You can see in this video that John has a thick pile of blankets in order to reduce the angle of the neck and many practitioners go to the extreme of creating a block the same size as those, but with a hole cut into it to accommodate the neck to ensure that the entire body weight is carried on the elbows and shoulders.

Shoulder stand is typically followed by halasana the plough, setubunda and the many leg stretches, twists and hip opening variations.

All the variations of course can only be done when you have a degree of comfort and stability in the pose.

Cover image thanks to kriya yoga sadhana


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