Sarvangasana aka the Shoulder Stand

Aug/13/2021 / by KT Hall
shoulder stand
Image credits: Shutterstock

Offering several benefits that encompass the entire body and full range of motion, intermediate shoulder stand pose Salamba Sarvangasana is fit for a queen! B.K.S. Iyengar even describes it as “the mother of all asanas” in the book Light On Yoga.

Exploring Sarvangasana

Derived from the Sanskrit root words Sarva (entire), Anga (body parts) and Asana (position/pose, Salamba Sarvangasana or Kandrasana requires the entire body for this complex pose. Shoulder stand pose is considered the “Mother of all yoga poses” because it takes careful concentration, time and the full body to achieve. Hence, it’s not a beginner pose but an intermediate one that should be mastered over time.

When you start practicing shoulder stand pose, it’s best to work with an experienced yogi or yogini. They can help gradually introduce you to the position in which you do a shoulderstand with your weight resting on your shoulders. They can also help increase your confidence and comfort level as you gain and acquire strength. Given that shoulderstand pose is a base pose, there are other variations to explore. It’s also used routinely in some flow yoga sequences as a way to boost energy levels. It may be found in sequences like Ashtanga, Iyengar, core yoga and even teen yoga.

Benefits of Shoulder Stand

Shoulder stand pose benefits several muscle groups at one time. These include the neck, abs, upper and mid-back, shoulders and arms. It also stretches and strengthens the legs and glutes. Sarvangasana benefits also include that it can stimulate the thyroid gland and help with digestion as it stretches the abdominal organs. Additional benefits of shoulder stand include that it reduces stress, anxiety, depression and can balance hormone levels.

How to Do Shoulder Stand

If you’re unsure how to do shoulder stand, to help you get into position, start by lying down on your back and then bend the knees with your feet on the ground. As you exhale, contract your stomach muscles and push your arms into the ground to pull your feet up from the floor. Bring your things toward your stomach and chest. Bend the elbows and put your hands near your lower back. Start to pull your shoulder blades and elbows together.

Next, spread out the palms of your hands across the back and continue lifting the hips until they’re over your shoulders and you’re in a line, perpendicular to the ground. With your elbows about shoulder-width apart, don’t let them collapse at your sides but put your weight on your arms and shoulders as well as your neck and head. When you inhale, gradually extend your knees to straighten them out. With your legs together, lift through your toes like you’re reaching for the ceiling to stretch the tailbone and extend your legs further. Then, relax your jaw, throat and face and look at your chest as you keep your shoulder blades tight with your sternum near your jawbone.

Try to hold this asana for 5-15 breaths and to release it, bend at the knees and then roll out onto your back as you let your arms collapse gently. 

Supported Shoulder Stand: Modifications and How to Deepen This Pose

A few modifications can help beginners with Sarvangasana. You may also want to consult an experienced yoga therapist or yoga teacher. Consider using the wall as a prop and placing blankets near the wall. Rolled, firm towels or blankets can also offer support under your shoulders to protect your upper back and neck. Bulk up the towels or blankets high enough so that when you put your weight on your shoulders, you can let your headrest comfortably on the ground while your neck is relaxed. Have your support at about the same height as your shoulders.

When getting into the shoulder standing pose, don’t turn your neck or head to your sides. This can help you avoid additional strain. Additionally, beginners might want to master half shoulderstand first as it only lifts the legs one at a time and isn’t fully vertical.

To help you deepen the pose, spread your wrists widely near your back and only press on your index fingers. Then push in and up with your little fingers and ring fingers. Every so often, withdraw your hands from your back and push your shoulder blades in. Then put your hands back near your spine in the original position they were in.

Precautions with Sarvangasana

Shoulder stand yoga is not recommended for anyone with back, spine or neck pain or an injury, or for those that had recent surgery. Because this asana uses the entire body, it requires controlled breathing and can have an effect on your body from hanging upside down.

While offering many benefits, there are precautions with this pose. It’s not for anyone suffering from migraines or high blood pressure or those menstruating or pregnant. Shoulderstand pose is also not for those with ear infections or throat infections because the additional blood flow can cause pain where you have an infection. Avoid this pose if you have heart issues, weak organs, an enlarged thyroid or spondylitis.

FAQs

What is a Shoulder Stand Good For?

Shoulder stand is a powerful pose that stretches and strengthens the entire body. It stimulates the thyroid gland and can improve digestion. Additionally, it can relieve depression and stress.

Is Shoulder Stand Dangerous?

Yes, if done incorrectly. Shoulder stand isn’t recommended for beginners or those who practice it without an experienced yoga teacher. It’s also not for those with neck, back or spinal injuries or those who have ear infections or high blood pressure. A major concern with this particular asana is supporting the neck, not applying too much pressure and not turning the neck. As you are putting all your weight onto your shoulders, only do this pose with a trained yoga or yogini to avoid injury.

How Long Should You Hold a Shoulder Stand?

Beginners might want to hold this asana for up to 30-seconds. As you gain more confidence and strengthen the shoulders, then increase it to 2-3 minutes. However, when you’re first starting, try for 10-seconds and then work your way up. Once you can hold this pose for 3-minutes at a time, then you might want to add it to your daily routine.

What is the Purpose of Sarvangasana?

Sarvangasana is a way to invert yourself and cleanse the blood flow that runs throughout the body. With this inversion pose, you’re strengthening and stretching several muscle groups while also promoting a sense of calm.

Does Sarvangasana Reduce Belly Fat?

Yes, shoulder stand pose can reduce fat to the belly because you’re using your core to help extend your body vertically. Your blood is circulating towards your shoulders when you’re upside down and your stomach is relieved of any pressure or stress.