Salamba Sarvangasana, or Supported Shoulder stand, is one of the oldest and most therapeutic of the asanas. According to yoga literature, it can alleviate asthma, relieve allergies, calm your nervous system, stimulate your thyroid, and much more. I can attest to some of these benefits firsthand, but what I like most about the pose is that it both requires and evokes complete focus. Of course, most yoga postures require concentration, but it is a lot easier to space out or plans your to-do list in a forward bend or a seated twist. The alignment in Shoulder stand is complex, delicate, and upside down. If you are not paying close attention, you risk hurting your neck or falling over.
Try Shoulder stand the next time you are feeling agitated or restless or stuck in a rut. After a few minutes of pressing down through your upper arms and watching your toes climb toward the sky, your senses will be increase and you will naturally tune into the here and now. You will emerge feeling more focused and settled. Who knows? After experiencing this new shape in your body, you might even find a new solution to an old problem.
See Also: Camel Pose Step by Step Instructions
Set Your Foundation
When you set yourself up for Shoulder stand, it is best to be fastidious. The wrong alignment can compress and strain your fragile cervical spine (the neck vertebrae). But do not let this discourage you from trying the pose. To confirm your safety, follow 2 cardinal rules: First, never turn your head while you are in Shoulder stand. And second, set yourself up properly. This includes being careful even obsessively so when folding those blankets, which assist keep back the natural curve of your neck and ease the pressure on it.
To start, take 2 or 3 blankets and find some wall space. Folding your blankets is simple if you remember 3 things: 1st, they should be wide and long enough to fit under your shoulders and upper arms. And, they should be thick enough to lift your shoulders to a height that keeps your neck free from strain. And last, they should be the same height under each arm no sad, haphazard folds.
Place your blankets about 2 feet away from the wall with the folded edges to the wall. Lie back on the folded edge so your shoulders rest on the blankets 1 inch in from the top of the fold and your head is on the floor about 1 foot from the wall. These measurements are approximate once you swing your legs up into the pose, you will know if your blankets are the correct distance. You might have to experiment by moving the blankets farther from or closer to the wall until you get it right for your proportions and height.
Bring your arms by your sides and Bend your knees, palms facing up. Slowly press the back of your head onto the floor and root your shoulders and arms into the blanket. This should assist maintain your neck’s natural outline. But to be sure, reach back: If you feel space between your neck and the floor, you are ready to go.
Breathe in smoothly and, as you breathe out, swing your legs over your head until your toes touch the wall. Twist your elbows and place your hands on your lower back with your fingertips pointing toward the deck. Your body should look like a less-than symbol (<), not a capital “I.” This shape is just correct for beginners and even more experienced practitioners who clamber with their neck in this posture because the weight of your pelvis is on your elbows instead of your neck and shoulders.
Bring your awareness to the base of the pose your shoulders, head, and elbows. Each point should carry weight, but your elbows should bear the most, followed by your shoulders, then your head. Although this dynamic will shift gradually in the next 2 versions, this is the safest arrangement for beginners.
If your setup feels sound and your neck is comfortable, stay for five to ten breaths. If not, slowly release from the pose.
Stack It Up
Now you can defiance yourself by bringing more weight over your shoulders. From the stage one, roll your shoulders away from your ears so that your neck feels long. Now, lift the front of your chest and broaden until it is above your shoulders. (As you make this adjustment, you may need to walk your hands down to the floor.)
Observe the excitement in your throat and neck. Release any tension by softening your jaw and eyes. Next, raise both feet off the wall, bend your knees, and draw your toes to your buttocks. Imagine raising both knees straight toward the deck as you vigorously amplify the front of your thighs. This should create more lift throughout your body and more increment in your hip flexors. Continue to rise up your body by walking your hands farther down your back (toward your shoulders) and opening your chest. Support your pose by slowly firming your lower belly toward your spine.
Once your body is perpendicular, bring your attention back to your base. How is your weight distributed? Since your pelvis is placed over your upper arms rather than your elbows, your shoulders are more anchored and there is more weight to your head. (As you navigate this transition, do not let your neck collapse.) Once again, expand the weight of your body evenly between your shoulders and elbows, and slowly press the back of your skull onto the floor to maintain the natural curve of your neck.
How does the pose affect your breath? Since your diaphragm endures more weight when you are upside down, it may take more effort to breathe. If you can stay in the pose for five to ten breaths, you are ready for the full version.
Go All the Way
The transition from stage two to the full pose is simple, but it can be surprisingly challenging. As you place more weight on your shoulders, you need flexibility and strength to keep your body vertical.
To move to this final stage, straighten your knees and reach your feet up. Maintain the length in the front of your thighs from the 2nd version of the pose as you vigorously reach your legs toward the deck. Use your lower belly to lift even more, which will decrease the feeling of weight on your base Try to keep your breath smooth and even as your diaphragm bears more weight.
While working your legs swiftly and using your belly to recourse the lift, walk your hands toward your shoulders. This should help open your shoulders, collarbones, and chest. As you continue to move deeper into this challenging posture, monitor your breath, the feeling in your eyes, ears, and tongue, and the sensations in your neck. If any of these areas is strained or tense, return to a previous version.
After five to ten breaths in full Shoulder stand, fold at your hips and place the balls of your feet on the wall. Bend your knees and walk your feet down the wall until they are a foot or so up above your head. Liberate your arms from your back and press them into your blankets. Gently unroll yourself onto the floor using your arms to guide you. Notice the sensations that flow through your body as you rest silently, feeling content knowing you have shifted the orientation of your body and mind even if only for a few minutes.