Main event: Salamba sarvangasana / shoulder stand

We turn out attention to going upside down for the next few weeks – and it’s about time! Paraphrasing my yoga teacher, Barbara Benagh, if you don’t invert, you are just a dilettante…. Inversions have many benefits, including balancing hormones and lowering blood pressure (shoulder stand and head stand), fostering courage (head stand, handstand), and simply being fun (forearm balance)! However, do try them with a well qualified instructor first, so that you avoid injuring yourself.

If you have suffered from neck injuries, disc issues, or have very tight shoulders or extremely high blood pressure or glaucoma, then please seek the help of a teacher experienced in therapeutic yoga before trying shoulder stand, so that you do not aggravate these conditions.

Our sequence towards the shoulder stand main event includes several poses from this quarter’s previous classes, along with a few new ones to try. The key is opening the shoulders and activating the mid-spine region (sound familiar?!), so that the spine can lift up out of the shoulders.

Begin with a forward fold with the arms clasped behind your back.

Prasarita padottanasana with arms clasped behind back. Note what happens to the lower back when you first bring the arms together behind your back – likely a “duck” anterior tilt. Correct this by drawing your lowest ribs together and your abdominal wall up towards the ribcage.

Move to the floor and an upward facing table top; if that feels fine for your shoulders, you can work on the upward facing plank.

Purvottanasana variations: start with fingers turned back, feet under hips (note: “traditionally,” the fingers are turned forward, but this causes an inward rotation of the upper arms). Push the knees forward and open the angle behind the knees. Keep the chin in the chest if you have tight shoulders, or release the head back if it feels OK. If attempting the full variation, start with flexed feet, push the hips up and roll the thighs towards each other, then place the soles of the feet on the ground. Lift the sternum and mid-spine strongly.

Set up for block under the hips, first just resting in the pose, then wrapping the externally rotating arms around the insides of the ankles (as when we prepared for dhanurasana main event).

Block under hips, arms clasped: place the block under the sacrum, and relax the hips completely. Interlace your fingers beyond the block if you can reach. Lift the sternum (breastbone) up. Make sure your feet and knees are no wider than hip width apart.
Turn your arms into external rotation, as shown in the photo – start with thumb up and then rotate it away from the body towards the floor.
With both arms externally rotating, hold the ankles from the inside. This may or may not be available to you, so don’t struggle – simply try one hand at a time, and eventually your spine will extend enough to allow for this asana.

Then return to the initial pose, and use the block for a supported shoulder stand pose. This is such a great pose! I usually teach this pose for weeks, if not months, before the full shoulder stand to allow practitioners to experience the benefits of shoulder stand, without the effort of the full pose. This pose also works well for those with any health issues that might make full shoulder stand counter indicated.

Press the elbows into the ground and lift the sternum. Touch the knees together to active deep abdominal muscles, and lift both legs at the same time off the floor and then up towards the ceiling.

For those who wish to and can go further, move to the wall, and set up two blankets with the folded ends neatly stacked. The shoulders will go on the blankets, while the head remains off the blanket. It will probably be best to let a teacher who knows how to use these props show you how to do this the first time.

Lie down with shoulders on the blanket, head off. Place your feet on the wall, lift your hips and interlace your fingers, wiggling onto the outer arms. Then place the hands on the back, without allowing the elbows to splay out. (As you can see, the newest yogi is practicing inversions along with mama… 🙂 )

If you wish to go still further, move back to the middle of the room, arrange your blankets, and move into halasana, or plow pose.

Bring the feet over the head, clasp the arms and roll the upper arm bones under your back. Using the blankets keeps excessive pressure off the neck, but there is an art to getting into this pose with the blankets – again, please consult a well-qualified teacher the first time around.

Finally, our main event.

Salamba sarvangasana (or salami sarvangasana, as autocorrect keeps wanting to tell me…). From halasana (the previous pose), place the elbows on the back, careful to keep them from splaying out, press down on them and lift the feet up to the sky. Take care to place weight in your elbows, as well as your shoulders, and press down gently with your head. Baby seems to be enjoying being upside down and is making a bigger appearance!

And there you have it! You are officially not dilettantes! 😉

Happy practicing and namaste,

Sylvia (and Baby Omie – thank you, Janet, for the name!)