Updated: Feb 15, 2020
Salamba = Supported
Sarva = All
Anga = limb
Āsana = Posture, or comfortable seat
Shoulder stand is a powerful yoga posture that has many benefits.
Reverses the flow of blood, lymph and all the various liquids in the body.
Opens the channels in the neck, shoulder and head increasing the flow of positive prana to the brain.
Traditionally it is taught that this posture recharges you and makes it so you don't need as much sleep.
Balances prana and apana vayus.
Calming and rejuvenating to the nervous system.
Increases blood flow to the cervical spinal nerve roots (Swami Shivananda pg 19 Yoga Asana)
Pressurizes the thyroid and parathyroid glands, traditional yogis claim this balances and maintains longevity in these glands.
Balances Jahthar Agni the primary Agni in the body
Reduces Kapha Dosha in the chest, neck and head.
Balances Vata and is good for Pitta in moderation.
It's an intermediate pose and takes adequate core strength to be able to hold the power of the inversion. To prepare for shoulder stand we can do the following warm up exercises to help strengthen our core muscles.
Shoulder Stand Prep
Come laying on your back.
(a) Inhale raise the right leg to 90 degrees
Exhale lower down
(b) Inhale raise left leg to 90 degrees
Exhale lower down
Continue alternating legs for 1 to 3 minutes
(c) Inhale raise both legs to 90 degrees
Exhale lower down
Continue 1 to 3 minutes
This basic abdominal workout can be done as a stand alone practice or to prepare for shoulder stand. If you are struggling with Shoulder Stand using the leg lifts is one way to gain strength for this posture. The wall can also be use in various ways to help us work towards the full expression of the pose. Working with a qualified teacher is important if you do not enter those pose with ease.
High blood pressure
Whiplash and general cervical (neck) spine issues
General misalignment of the neck and shoulders should be considered when practicing this posture.
Rounded upper back (khyphosis) use a blanket under the neck
Clients with heart stents should not practice Shoulder Stand
Heart disease is a serious contraindication for Shoulder Stand. I recently heard a story of a woman in her 70’s who had done lots of sports activities her whole life. Her doctor suggested she do yoga for stress relief. When she picked up her yoga practice she came in with her strong sport like attitude to achieve. She tried shoulder stand for her first time and pushed hard to get into the pose. She felt odd after the practice. The inverted nature of the posture allowed gravity to let the blood flow more actively to her heart. This major change in blood flow caused her to go to the hospital with a mild heart attack. This story is a good example, even if we are fit, we should use caution when turning our selfs upside down.
Another serious concern all yoga teacher should be aware of with shoulder stand relates to stroke. Turning yourself upside down can increase the possibility of strokes. Use caution when teaching this asana in group classes as we usually do not get a chance to do a proper medical intake prior to class. Even modifications like legs up the wall can cause problems for older beginners with stroke or heart disease history.
SEQUENCING & COUNTER POSES
There are many wonderful sequences we can use to come in and out of Shoulder Stand. Plough, Boat, Seated Forward Fold can be used in a flowing sequence rocking on the spine. Reclined side twist is also a nice counter twist to the deep cervical flexion we experience in Shoulder Stand.
In Classical Hatha Yoga we take 1 to 3 minutes of Shvasana followed by Fish pose.
Fish Pose (matsyasana) and Shoulder Stand combo.
Some modern anatomy yogis are advocating not doing fish pose after shoulder stand which is a common sequencing found in many traditional yoga schools. Their argument is that fish is too deep of extension (back bending) at the cervical spine (neck) after the deep cervical flexion in Shoulder Stand. There is some value in this view. However, if one takes relaxation before moving on to the next posture, the body has time to come to neutral before the counter pose at the neck. I feel that the idea of not pairing shoulder stand and fish pose is a classic case of what is happening with yoga today. People are making up new ways to practice and even arguing against the traditional ways based upon an altered narrative. In this case relaxation has been removed and then the critique is made from there. Omitting relaxation seems to be the bigger issue, not moving the spine into different natural ranges of motion. In most classical schools of yoga relaxation would take place between most all poses. If we rush from one pose to another we don't only increase the likely hood of injury but forgo the relaxation that is built into Hatha Yoga.
Relaxation between poses is key to building Sattva. The goal of yoga is Sattva Jaya or victory of clarity, calmness and luminosity. Rushing in our yoga practice builds more Rajas (agitation) which is moving away from Sattva Jaya.
For those of us that are working with tight necks Bridge Pose can be used to warm up the neck for the deep flexion that occurs in Shoulder Stand. Sarvangasana (shoulder stand) can also be used as a counter asana for backbends such as Chakrasana (wheel pose). In these two poses we see extreme range of motion of the neck going from deep flexion to deep extension. Wheel pose also opens up deeply in the chest, similarly to fish pose. Again, when moving from one extreme range of motion to the next take a few breathes in shavasna.
Plough pose is well partnered with Shoulder Stand. To keep healthy spinal length in Halasana (plough pose,) generally speaking it is advised to enter into plough by coming through Sarvangāsana (shoulder stand) first. Using these two poses together brings a large load on the neck. As mentioned above Fish pose is a great counter stretch or gentle range of motion movements can be made to help unwind the neck after baring the bodies weight on our neck.