salamba = with support (sa = with
alamba = support)
sarva = all
anga = limb. There are variations of Shoulderstand that are “unsupported” = niralamba, pronounced near-ah-LOM-bah)
Supported Shoulderstand: Step-by-Step Instructions
Fold two or more firm blankets into rectangles measuring about 1 foot by 2 feet, and stack them one on top of the other. You can place a sticky mat over the blankets to help the upper arms stay in place while in the pose. Then lie on the blankets with your shoulders supported (and parallel to one of the longer edges) and your head on the floor. Lay your arms on the floor alongside your torso, then bend your knees and set your feet against the floor with the heels close to the sitting bones. Exhale, press your arms against the floor, and push your feet away from the floor, drawing your thighs into the front torso.
Continue to lift by curling the pelvis and then the back torso away from the floor, so that your knees come toward your face. Stretch your arms out parallel to the edge of the blanket and turn them outward so the fingers press against the floor (and the thumbs point behind you). Bend your elbows and draw them toward each other. Lay the backs of your upper arms on the blanket and spread your palms against the back of your torso. Raise your pelvis over the shoulders, so that the torso is relatively perpendicular to the floor. Walk your hands up your back (toward the floor) without letting the elbows slide too much wider than shoulder width.
Inhale and lift your bent knees toward the ceiling, bringing your thighs in line with your torso and hanging the heels down by your buttocks. Press your tailbone toward your pubis and turn the upper thighs inward slightly. Finally inhale and straighten the knees, pressing the heels up toward the ceiling. When the backs of the legs are fully lengthened, lift through the balls of the big toes so the inner legs are slightly longer than the outer.
See also More Inversion Poses
Soften the throat and tongue. Firm the shoulder blades against the back, and move the sternum toward the chin. Your forehead should be relatively parallel to the floor, your chin perpendicular. Press the backs of your upper arms and the tops of your shoulders actively into the blanket support, and try to lift the upper spine away from the floor. Gaze softly at your chest.
As a beginning practitioner stay in the pose for about 30 seconds. Gradually add 5 to 10 seconds to your stay every day or so until you can comfortably hold the pose for 3 minutes. Then continue for 3 minutes each day for a week or two, until you feel relatively comfortable in the pose. Again gradually and 5 to 10 seconds onto your stay every day or so until you can comfortably hold the pose for 5 minutes. To come down, exhale, bend your knees into your torso again, and roll your back torso slowly and carefully onto the floor, keeping the back of your head on the floor.
Contraindications and Cautions
- High blood pressure
- Neck injury
- Pregnancy: If you are experienced with this pose, you can continue to practice it late into pregnancy. However, don’t take up the practice of Sarvangasana after you become pregnant.
- Salamba Sarvangasana is considered to be an intermediate to advanced pose. Do not perform this pose without sufficient prior experience or unless you have the supervision of an experienced instructor. Some schools of yoga recommend doing Salamba Sirsasana before Salamba Sarvangasana, others vice versa. The instruction here assumes the former order.
Modifications and Props
Rolling up into Sarvangasana from the floor might be difficult at first. You can use a wall to help you get into the pose. Set your blankets up a foot or so from the wall (the exact distance depends on your height: Taller students will be farther from the wall, shorter students closer). Sit sideways on your support (with one side toward the wall) and, on an exhalation, swing your shoulders down onto the edge of the blanket and your legs up onto the wall. Bend your knees to right angles, push your feet against the wall and lift your pelvis off the support. When your torso and thighs are perpendicular to the floor, lift your feet away from the wall and complete the pose. To come down, exhale your feet back to the wall and roll down.
Deepen the Pose
It’s common in this pose for students to press only the index finger sides of the hands against the back. Be sure to spread both palms wide against your back torso. Push in and up against the back ribs, especially with the ring fingers and pinkies. Periodically take your hands away from the back, press the shoulder blades in, and return your hands to the back a little closer to the head than they were before.
Beginners’ elbows tend to slide apart and the upper arms roll inward, which sinks the torso onto the upper back, collapsing the pose (and potentially straining the neck). Before coming onto your blanket support, roll up a sticky mat and set it on the support, with its long axis parallel to the back edge (the edge opposite the shoulder edge). Then come up with your elbows lifted on and secured by the sticky mat.
- Calms the brain and helps relieve stress and mild depression
- Stimulates the thyroid and prostate glands and abdominal organs
- Stretches the shoulders and neck
- Tones the legs and buttocks
- Improves digestion
- Helps relieve the symptoms of menopause
- Reduces fatigue and alleviates insomnia
- Therapeutic for asthma, infertility, and sinusitis
A partner can help you learn to use your back torso to open the front. In Sarvangasana, balancing on the tops of your shoulders, stretch your arms behind you (toward the back edge of the blanket support), approximately parallel to each other. Have the partner then sit down on your support, between your arms, with his/her back pressed to yours. Lean against each other and use the contact to press your shoulder blades deeper into the back, opening the sternum toward the chin. Your partner can also press your upper arms more firmly into the floor.
One of the simplest Sarvangasana variations is Eka Pada Sarvangasana (pronounced ACHE-ah PAH-dah, eka = one, pada = foot or leg). Come into the pose. Stabilize your left leg perpendicular to the floor, then exhale and lower your right leg parallel to the floor without disturbing the position of the left. The outer hip of the down leg (in this case, the right) tends to sink toward the floor. To correct this, turn the right leg outwardly, moving its sitting bone toward the left. Hold the two sitting bones close and rotate (from the hip joint only) the right leg back to neutral. Hold for 10 to 30 seconds, inhale the right leg back to perpendicular, and repeat on the left for the same length of time.