Shoulder stand is called Sarvangasana in Sanskrit. Sarvangasana can be broken into ‘Sarva’ which means ‘entire’, ‘Anga’ meaning ‘body part’ and Asana meaning ‘pose’. So it can essentially be called the all body parts pose because of its benefits for the entire body and mind. This posture is an intermediate yoga pose and requires a fair amount of strength and balance, as all the weight comes on the shoulders. Further on in the article, we will be discussing more about Sarvangasana benefits and contraindications for the better understanding of the posture.
What are the benefits of Sarvangasana?
Sarvangasana helps boost energy in the body. The posture balances the nervous system and strengthens the neck muscles. It tones and strengthens the shoulders, while also toning the legs, hamstrings and calf muscles. For athletes and runners, this yoga pose is useful as it reverses the blood flow to the legs. This helps relieve stress in the leg muscles and relaxes them. It strengthens the back and improves flexibility in the spine.
From a physiological standpoint, the posture is very effective in stimulating the thyroid and parathyroid glands that helps balance hormones in both males and females. It massages and tones the thyroid gland that controls metabolism and helps normalise body weight, while also helping correct hypo-thyroidism. It helps in cases of low blood pressure as well. The posture rejuvenates the brain and improves blood flow to the brain. The heart muscles are stretched as the reversed blood flow requires the heart to work harder to pump blood to the extremities. This is the same reason it is very useful for varicose veins.
Spinal bend: Cervical flexion - forward bend
Posture type: Inversion
Targets: Shoulder & neck
Ideal for: Strength
Pose level: Intermediate
How to prepare for Sarvangasana
Hip and lower back flexibility
For practicing the Sarvangasana pose, hip and lower back flexibility is important. Practising standing triangle pose, lunges and simple hip openers like bound angle pose, garland pose and pigeon pose regularly can help develop hip flexibility. Backbends like camel pose, cobra pose, locust pose and forward bends like seated forward fold and standing forward fold will improve back flexibility. You can also practice forward folds like Paschimottanasana.
Core and leg strength
Developing strength is always helpful. It helps you hold the posture for longer with ease and comfort. For this, regular practice of triangle pose, warrior series, boat pose and plank are important.
Upper back and shoulder strength
Since most of the weight is on the shoulders, shoulder strength is helpful. Asanas like cow face pose, puppy pose, thread the needle, dolphin pose, seated eagle pose, etc. are useful.
How to practice Sarvangasana
Getting into the posture
- Lie on the back on a folded blanket. Check that the head and spine are aligned and that the legs are straight with the feet together. Place the hands beside the body with the palms facing down.
- Relax the entire body and mind.
- Contract the abdominal muscles and, with the support of the arms, slowly bend knees and raise the legs to a vertical position and straighten the legs now.
- When the legs are vertical, press the arms and hands down on the floor.
- Slowly and smoothly roll the buttocks and spine off the floor, raising the trunk to a vertical position.
- Turn the palms of the hands upward, bend the elbows and place the hands behind the rib cage, slightly away from the spine, to support the back. The elbows should be about shoulder-width apart.
- Gently push the chest forward so that it is pressed firmly against the chin.
- In the final position, the legs are vertical, together and in a straight line with the trunk. The body is supported by the shoulders, nape of the neck and back of the head. The arms provide stability, the chest rests against the chin and the feet are relaxed.
- Close your eyes. Relax the whole body in the final pose for as long as is comfortable.
Getting out of the posture
- To return to the starting position, bring the legs forward until the feet are above and behind the back of the head. Keep the legs straight.
- Slowly release the position of the hands and place the arms on the floor beside the body with the palms down. Gradually lower each vertebra to the floor, followed by the buttocks, so that the legs resume their initial vertical position.
- Lower the legs to the floor slowly, keeping the knees straight.
Key alignments in Sarvangasana
- Ensure the head and spine are aligned and that the legs are straight with the feet together.
- In the final position, the legs are vertical, together and in a straight line with the trunk, back and shoulders.
What are the contraindications of Sarvangasana?
Anyone with high blood pressure, heart conditions, inflammation of the ear, weak eye capillaries, and severe near-sightedness should avoid the asana. Those with problems in the pituitary or thyroid glands, arteriosclerosis, cerebral or other thrombosis, severe asthma, tuberculosis, cold or sinusitis should also avoid doing this posture. Slipped disc, weak spine or vertigo patients should also avoid this asana. These are the few Sarvangasana contraindications that one must look into before practicing this posture.
What are the counter poses of the Sarvangasana?
Practicing Fish pose or Matsyasana as a counter pose of Sarvangasana for a minute or two is very important. In shoulder stand the neck is contracted, so a counter movement like fish pose will extend the neck muscles.
If you are a beginner, press your feet onto a wall, which takes some weight off the shoulders and gives the upper arms and shoulders a moment to rotate outward and the chest to open.
Advice for beginners
Initially, if you are not able to bring the shoulders, trunk and legs in one line, it’s okay. There might be a slight curve. Once you improve alignment and balance in the posture, you will be able to bring the body into one straight line. Use the wall for support when practising the first few times. It will help lift up the legs more easily.
Once this position of the shoulder stand is mastered you can now practice variations, especially with the legs such as leg splits, lotus legs, eagle legs, one leg down, hip rotations etc.
Practice Tips for Sarvangasana
- Practice this asana once and not more than 2 minutes. Practice the counter pose, fish pose, for the same amount of time.
- Don't repeat or practice it beyond the limit of time specified above.
Trying to perfect this asana in a short period of time is a mistake one can make. You have to approach it very slowly and back off if there is even slight discomfort. Don’t be in a hurry. You will get better at it over a period of time.