Clean Vertical Line
To get this lift and chest opening in Sarvangasana, you'll work the same way. Even if you're used to doing the pose in the middle of the room, go to the wall to give yourself stability while working on your arm and shoulder position. To keep your neck from pressing into the floor, stack a few folded blankets with the back edge six to eight inches from the wall. Lie on the blankets with your head on the floor and your torso, arms, and shoulders on the blankets (make sure that your shoulders are on the thickest folded edges). Your hips will be at the wall, your knees bent, and your feet up on the wall. Your arms will be by your sides, palms up.
As you walk your feet up, lifting your hips and back body off the blankets, continue to externally rotate your arms, and keep them parallel to each other. Don't be in a rush to put your hands on your back. Instead, bend your elbows to 90 degrees (so your forearms are perpendicular to the floor), make a fist with each hand, and press the elbows firmly into the floor. That shoulder action—a push from the posterior deltoid—should lift your back ribs up out of the armpits, bringing the spine to vertical. Now put your hands on your back ribs, keeping your upper arms parallel. If your elbows go wide, you'll be internally rotating and will lose your ability to press down and lift up. Instead, press your elbows into the blankets, which will help hold your torso in a clean vertical line.
Of course, there are other factors that affect your ability to be vertical in Sarvangasana, including the action of the leg muscles and the flexibility of your neck and shoulders—worthy topics for another column. In the meantime, keep working on the foundation from which you can build a grounded, spacious pose. Let your gaze softly focus on your heart, and your mind, too, will benefit from the pose's restorative, introspective nature.
Julie Gudmestad is a physical therapist and Iyengar Yoga teacher in Portland, Oregon.!--page-->