SHOULDERSTAND: PRACTICING THE QUEEN OF ASANAS
Yoga teachers often give students a few minutes at the end of class to do any poses of their choosing. And there’s one pose that seems to be a common choice for more experienced yogis: shoulder stand (or Sarvangasana).
For many, shoulder stand is more than just another pose. In fact, it’s often called the queen of all asanas (its partner pose, headstand, is considered the king!).
Benefits of Shoulderstand
For people who spend a lot of time sitting throughout the day – which is most of us – practicing inversions like shoulder stand is especially important.
Lifting the legs and feet up above the torso creates a position most people would never take in daily life. It changes the compression on the spine and reverses the effect of gravity on the body, which counteracts the effects of too much sitting. In doing so, inversions like shoulder stand reduce swelling in the feet and legs and help prevent varicose veins.
Practicing shoulder stand also improves shoulder and core strength, as well as balance. Additionally, many yogis find they sleep better, feel more relaxed, and experience decreased stress and anxiety after doing this pose.
Tips for Shoulderstand
As with headstand, safely getting into shoulder stand requires shoulder and core strength. If you struggle with coming into or holding the pose, focus on building more core and shoulder strength first.
Alignment is also a critical factor in practicing shoulder stand safely. Like in Tadasana, the shoulders, hips, and ankles should all be in one straight line. The chin should stay in line with the sternum, keeping all four sides of the neck equally long. The elbows should be about shoulder distance apart, with the hands walking up the back as far as possible.
The use of blankets is also recommended in shoulder stand, even for experienced practitioners. To set up, fold your blanket (or better yet, multiple blankets) horizontally across your mat. Lie on your back so your shoulders are on the blanket and your head is on the floor. Then come into the pose.
Using blankets in shoulder stand stops your neck from bending beyond its normal range of motion. It also prevents the weight from pressing onto the C7 vertebrae (the big bone that sticks out at the bottom of the neck).
Risks and Contraindications of Shoulderstand
Though using blankets will help prevent injuries in shoulder stand, it can still pose serious risks to the neck and spine. If you feel pain in your neck or shoulders during shoulder stand, come out of the pose and talk to your teacher about it.
Some yogis should refrain from doing shoulder stand altogether. As with other inversions, anyone with a history of stroke or heart disease should avoid shoulder stand. Those with diabetes, glaucoma, or high blood pressure should also avoid this pose.
Lastly, shoulder stand isn’t suggested for anyone with osteoporosis or neck, shoulder, or spine issues. The good news is that people in this category can usually practice legs up the wall with no problems, and will get many of the same benefits.
As always, and particularly when it comes to the queen of asana, make sure you prioritize practicing safely and doing what’s best for your own body.
About the Author
Jen is a freelance writer, blogger, and yoga teacher who left her office job in Boston to travel the world with her husband. She previously worked in international development and academic research, and served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Rwanda. Some of her biggest passions include promoting responsible and mindful travel and helping her students develop their personal yoga practice.