Sarvangasana, commonly known as the Shoulder Stand, is a revered yoga pose held in high regard by yogis across the globe. Its name is derived from the Sanskrit words “Sarvanga,” meaning “all parts,” and “asana,” meaning “pose.” This implies that the pose benefits all parts of the body, a testament to its comprehensive nature and the variety of health benefits it offers 01.
- Also Known As: Supported Shoulderstand
- Targets: Shoulders and neck
- Equipment Needed: Folded blankets, yoga mat
- Level: Intermediate
What is Sarvangasana?
Sarvangasana, or the Shoulder Stand, is often referred to as the “queen of all yoga poses.” It is an inverted pose that requires you to balance your entire body on your shoulders. The pose involves lifting your legs and hips up while your upper body remains grounded on the floor, forming an angle of about 90 degrees.
How to Perform Sarvangasana (Steps)
Before we dive into the benefits of this powerful pose, it’s crucial to understand how to perform it correctly to gain maximum benefits and avoid any potential injuries:
- Start by lying flat on your back with your legs together and your arms by your sides.
- Using your abdominal muscles, lift your legs off the floor to a 90-degree angle.
- Push your hands into the floor, and use your abdominal muscles to lift your hips off the floor.
- Place your hands on your lower back for support, keeping your elbows on the floor.
- Gradually straighten and raise your legs towards the ceiling until your torso and legs are perpendicular to the floor.
- Keep your body aligned, your chin tucked into your chest, and your eyes on your toes.
- Hold the pose for as long as comfortable, starting with a few seconds and working up to a minute or longer.
- To release, lower your knees towards your forehead, release your hands from your back, and gently roll your spine back onto the floor, making sure to keep your head down.
The Health Benefits of Sarvangasana
Here’s a table summarizing the health benefits of Sarvangasana:
|Improved Circulation||Boosts blood circulation to the heart and brain, supplying more oxygen and nutrients.|
|Enhanced Digestion||Stimulates the abdominal organs, aiding digestion and alleviating issues like constipation.|
|Thyroid Regulation||Puts pressure on the neck region, stimulating the thyroid gland and helping balance metabolism.|
|Reduced Anxiety and Stress||Encourages deep breathing and relaxation, reducing stress and promoting mental clarity.|
|Strengthened Upper Body||Strengthens the shoulders, upper back, and core, improving stability and posture.|
Variations of the Shoulderstand Pose
The Shoulderstand pose can be tailored to better fit your physical capabilities and personal preferences.
Duration of hold
- Beginners: 30 seconds–1 minute
- Intermediate: 1–3 minutes
- Advanced: 3–6 minutes
Here are some variations you might find useful:
Use of Looped Strap for Alignment In case your elbows tend to drift towards the mat’s edges while in the pose, a looped strap around your upper arms can help maintain them at shoulder-width distance. Precisely measure the strap’s length before placing it around your upper arms prior to transitioning into the Plow pose.
Less Steep Leg Elevation If achieving a 90-degree angle with your legs is challenging, it’s perfectly acceptable to raise them to a lesser degree. Even an angle of 45 degrees can still offer a beneficial stretch to your neck and shoulder region.
Diverse Leg Configurations There is a multitude of variations possible for leg positioning during the Shoulderstand. For instance, you could form a wide “V” shape, similar to the Cobbler’s pose (Baddha Konasana), or adopt a cross-legged position reminiscent of the Lotus pose. Modifying your leg position allows you to add variety to the Shoulderstand pose while still reaping its benefits.
Simplified Alternatives for Novices If you feel the Shoulderstand is currently beyond your reach, consider the Supported Bridge pose with a block placed under the sacrum and your legs elevated straight up. The Legs-up-the-Wall Pose is another suitable substitute, particularly if you prefer to abstain from inversions during menstruation.
What is the difference between Sirsasana and Sarvangasana?
Sirsasana and Sarvangasana are two different but complementary yoga poses. Both are inversions, which means they involve raising the legs above the head, but they are performed in different ways and provide different benefits.
Here’s a table highlighting the differences between Sirsasana and Sarvangasana:
|Aspect||Sirsasana (Headstand)||Sarvangasana (Shoulder Stand)|
|Nickname||King of asanas||Queen of asanas|
|Body Position||Balancing on the crown of the head with the help of arms and elbows||Lifting the body vertically, supported by shoulders and upper arms with hands on the lower back|
|Strength Required||Requires substantial upper body strength and balance||Generally requires less strength than Sirsasana, more emphasis on balance|
|Stimulation||Directly stimulates the brain and the pituitary gland||Stimulates the thyroid gland due to the chin lock|
|Key Benefits||Generally requires less strength than Sirsasana, with more emphasis on balance||Increases blood flow to the heart, improves digestion, and helps balance the metabolic functions|
|Contraindications||Not recommended for individuals with high blood pressure, certain heart conditions, neck issues, or eye problems like glaucoma||Generally considered safer than Sirsasana but should still be avoided by those with high blood pressure, certain heart conditions, or neck issues|
Steering Clear of Common Pitfalls in Shoulderstand Pose
To avoid injury and ensure you reap the full benefits of the Shoulderstand pose, it’s important to steer clear of these common errors:
Incorrect Alignment A frequent mistake is to perform the Shoulderstand with the buttocks protruding and feet positioned above the forehead rather than directly above the hips. This misalignment disrupts the balance of the entire pose. To remedy this, draw your shoulder blades firmly into your back, ensuring your heels remain directly above your hips.
Failure to Engage Your Core Failure to maintain an engaged core during the pose can lead to difficulties in fully elevating your hips and walking your hands up your back. Make a conscious effort to activate your core muscles throughout the entire pose.
Head Rotation Maintaining a forward gaze is a key aspect of proper Shoulderstand form. Turning your head, perhaps to observe others or watch the instructor, puts your neck at risk of injury. If needed, close your eyes to resist the urge to look around.
Precautions and Safety Measures for the Shoulderstand Pose
This pose should be avoided if you’re dealing with a neck injury or certain conditions. These include high blood pressure, glaucoma, retinal detachment, recent dental bone grafts, or any other condition where inverting your head below your heart is not recommended.
The use of folded blankets can help mitigate the risk of forcing your neck into an extremely flexed position, which could lead to muscle strain or the formation of bone spurs. In severe cases, there’s a risk of injuring a cervical disc or even causing a neck fracture, especially if you have osteoporosis.
It’s crucial to listen to your body while practicing the Shoulderstand. If you experience any discomfort or pain, immediately cease the pose. For beginners, it might be advisable to hold this pose for only one or two breaths. On the other hand, more experienced yogis may be able to maintain the pose for up to 10 breaths.
Sarvangasana, the Shoulder Stand, is a holistic yoga pose that offers a myriad of health benefits ranging from improved circulation and digestion to enhanced mental well-being. With regular practice, it can be a potent tool in your yoga fitness journey. Remember, always listen to your body, practice within your limits, and prioritize alignment and safety over depth.