Sarvangasana – shoulderstand posture
Sarvangasana is the name of the shoulderstand posture. It’s called that because we literally stand on the back of the shoulder girdle.
As with all the Yoga and Hot Yoga postures, it looks easy, but there’s a lot to it. The neck is fully bent forward, and this can create strain. You can check for yourself whether your neck is ready: in an upright seated or standing position, bring your chin to your chest. Take one hand to the back of your neck. Does your neck feel flat? Most of us will be at an angle – which means that we have to be careful loading all of our body weight in this posture.
We can reduce the risk of strain by not insisting on the body being entirely vertical. In this case, you’re likely to be taking more of your body weight in your hands – so be careful of those wrists.
Most of us will have a fold at the waist when first practicing this posture in Yoga and Hot Yoga classes. It takes time for the body to become strong enough to move towards a more vertical position.
Benefits of sarvangasana
Shoulderstand is credited with many body benefits. The fact that we are upside down means that blood return from our legs is much easier for the body. People believe this helps prevent varicose veins. Also, some people find that the change in blood pressure around their chest and neck eases coughs, colds and headaches.
Yoga teaches that our bodies are supported by an energy network that spreads out from energy centres called chakras. It’s believed that there are chakras in the chest, neck and head. These are said to be stimulated by the shoulderstand practice, particularly the throat chakra. The throat chakra is held to govern our honesty and authenticity of self-expression.
You might ask: is there any biological evidence of these benefits? Well, the neck has special receptors in it called baroreceptors. These are measuring our blood pressure and communicating it to our brains all the time, so that the brain can regulate the body. The massaging effect of the shoulderstand position could help stimulate the baroreceptors, and in turn help regulate blood pressure. When blood pressure is correct, the person is able to live a fuller life: in other words, they can express themselves fully. Of course, there’s more to authentic self-expression than just controlling blood pressure – but if blood pressure is a problem, then the person definitely has to restrict their lifestyle.
These instructions – and all the pictures in this article – relate to supported shoulderstand (or salamba sarvangasana). There is another variation, called nilamba sarvangasana, where we do not use the arms for support in the same way. It’s not described here, because it requires some very specific preparation. If you attend the Yogafurie inversions course in the autumn of 2018 then you’ll get a chance to work on both versions!
Lie down on your back, legs held together and arms stretched down beside your hips with palms flat on the floor. Keep your legs straight, unless you have back issues, in which case bring your feet as close to your body as possible, still flat on the floor.
Inhale, and then as you exhale, lift your legs, straightening your knees. When you have completed the exhalation, just breathe normally as you continue.
See above – you might not have a fully straight body.
Place your hands on your back and bring elbows as close together behind as possible. Your hands can press gently into your back for support.
Press your elbows away from your body, as if lengthening your upper arms. You can press the upper arms quite firmly onto the mat – this will help with support and stability. Feel that the natural space between your shoulder blades is elevating away from the floor.
Don’t turn your head to the side in this position. Check that you can lift your head just a little though – if you can’t at all then there’s strain in your neck, so permit a bit more of a bend at the hips to reduce the strain.
If you’d like to learn more we are holding our very own inversions course, spanning 6 weeks every Saturday morning from the 20th October onwards. You can book in for all, for a few or even just for one session and you’ll learn so much to start / develop your inversions practice!