Dubbed the Mother of asanas by B. K. S. Iyengar in "Light on Yoga," shoulder stand is revered by yogis for its ability to harmonize the entire body. In fact, its Sanskrit name, Salamba Sarvangasana, literally means "supported all-limbs pose," a nod to its reputation as a head-to-toe tune-up.
Practicing Shoulder Stand
To come into Shoulder Stand, stack two or more folded blankets on your mat. Fold your mat over the blankets to provide more traction for your arms. Lie on the mat with your shoulders supported on the blankets and your head on the floor. With your ams alongside your body, curl your knees toward your chest and lift your hips into the air. Bend your elbows and place your hands on your back. Keeping your elbows shoulder-width, slide your hands closer to your shoulders, if possible. Straighten your knees and reach your feet toward the ceiling.
Stack enough blankets under your shoulders to bring your body to vertical without straining your neck. Elevating your shoulders lessens the neck stretch and protects the delicate disks of your spine. If you have difficulty lifting from the floor to come into the pose, use a wall to help. Place your blankets close to the wall; the exact distance will depend on your height. Lie with your shoulders on the blankets, your head on the floor and your legs up the wall. Bend your knees and press your feet into the wall to lift your pelvis. Bring your hands onto your back, then extend your legs one at a time toward the ceiling.
Shoulder stand stretches your shoulders while strengthening your legs and glutes. Iyengar writes that it stimulates the endocrine system, particularly the thyroid and parathyroid glands, calms the nervous system, improves digestion and relieves constipation. As an inverted pose, it up-ends your normal relationship with gravity, relieving pressure on your abdominal organs and helping blood flow back to your heart. It helps to soothe the mind, reduce stress and alleviate mild depression, while fighting fatigue and insomnia.
Don't practice shoulder stand if you have a neck injury, headache, diarrhea or high blood pressure. Iyengar yoga teacher Bobby Clennell, writing in "The Woman's Yoga Book," recommends skipping it during your period, as it may interrupt the flow. Pregnant women without an established shoulder stand practice should avoid it as well. Because shoulder stand is an intermediate to advanced pose, it's best to learn the pose from a qualified instructor who can give you individual guidance.
- Light on Yoga; B. K. S. Iyengar
- Yoga Journal: The Importance of Shoulderstand and Headstand
- Yoga Journal: Supported Shoulderstand
- Yoga Journal: Protect the Neck in Shoulderstand
- The Woman's Yoga Book; Bobby Clennell
Joe Miller started writing professionally in 1991. He specializes in writing about health and fitness and has written for "Fit Yoga" magazine and the New York Times City Room blog. He holds a master's degree in applied physiology from Columbia University, Teacher's College.