Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth yoga, fitness, & nutrition courses, when you sign up for Outside+.
Salambasarvangasana (sah-LOM-bah sar-van-GAHS-uh nuh)
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)
How to do Supported Shoulderstand
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
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, begin 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.
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.
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.
Supported Shoulderstand with a block
Lie down on the floor in supine Mountain Pose. Place your feet on the floor and lift your hips high enough to slide a block under your tail bone. Lift your legs and extend them straight up, perpendicular to the floor. Flex your feet. Allow your arms and hands to rest on the mat at your sides.