Every yoga pose, known in Sanskrit as an “asana,” has its own way of bringing the body and mind into greater harmony. World-renowned yoga teacher B.K.S. Iyengar poetically compares the body to a bow and each asana to the various arrows with which individuals target the ultimate aim of yoga practice — the soul.
This guide offers an in-depth look at shoulder stand pose (salamba sarvangasana).
About the Pose
Because sarvangasana can benefit the entire body, this pose uses the word “sarvanga” — meaning “all limbs.” Iyengar writes that this pose will make “your body feel light and infused with radiance.” The shoulder stand, a type of inversion pose, offers a good place to start before practicing other inversions. Salamba simply means “with support” in Sanskrit. When Iyengar advises people how to practice this pose, he uses a folded mat on top of three blankets positioned under the upper back and neck. You also can also practice sarvangasana on a mat or the floor. Either way, this pose will pump fresh, healthy blood through your body and encourage growth in many ways.
- Restores the thyroid and parathyroid glands
- Defends against colds and sinus issues
- Improves bowel movements and alleviates urinary disorders
- Reduces menstrual cramps when practiced regularly between two menstrual periods
- While this pose may assist with menstruation, Iyengar recommends women avoid this pose during menstruation.
- People with high blood pressure should take caution when practicing this pose. Iyengar suggests that individuals with this condition hold plow pose (halasana) for at least three minutes before attempting sarvangasana.
- Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana): This beginner pose encourages flexibility in the spine and shoulders, improves digestion, and expands the chest.
- Plow Pose (Halasana): This relaxing, intermediate pose replenishes energy levels, aids in digestion, and lengthens the spine.
- Headstand Pose (Salamba Sirsasana): This advanced pose eases cold symptoms, reinvigorates the lungs, increases the amount of hemoglobin in the blood, and relieves insomnia.
Recommended: Browse more of our guides on the art and practice of yoga to harmonize your body, mind, and soul.
Trying It Out
Remember to keep your breathing full and steady as you follow these step-by-step instructions to try this pose out for yourself:
Place a mat on top of three folded blankets then lie down so the blankets support your neck, back, and shoulders. Rest the back of your head on the floor. Your big toes, ankles, and heels should touch each other. Press your shoulders down onto the blankets. Stretch your arms, but leave your wrists touching the sides of your body with your palms facing up. Raise your sternum, but keep your lower spine pressed to the floor.
Pull your shoulder blades together, but make sure to keep them relaxed. Raise your feet so your knees are bent. Then, keeping your knees together, raise your hips and buttocks off the floor.
Place your palms on your hips, using your elbows to support you as you lift your torso and your buttocks. Your buttocks should be perpendicular to the floor with your knees almost touching your head.
Move your hands from your buttocks down to your lower back — specifically, nearby your kidneys. Your thumbs should touch your sides and your fingers should point toward your buttocks. Now, initiate the shoulder stand by lifting your torso, hips, and knees. Make sure your chin touches your chest.
Slowly raise your feet to the sky. Use the fingers on your back to steady yourself. Try to open the soles of your feet. Your neck, shoulders, and the backs of your arms should rest on the blankets beneath you.
Straighten your body so it’s completely perpendicular to the floor. Remember, your hands and arms provide the best support in this pose. To ensure your chest remains expanded, keep your elbows close to your body. Don’t strain your throat, but instead use your neck and hands to lift your body as straight as possible. Aim your toes at the sky.
Breathe in this pose for 30 seconds to three three minutes.
Refining the Pose
Achieving maximum benefit from your yoga practice requires you to pay close attention to your physical alignment. To ensure you maintain proper alignment, ask yourself these questions:
- Are your elbows close together and parallel to each other?
- Are your hands firmly supporting your lower back?
- Are your eyes looking at your chest?
- Have you centered your body?
- Are your legs wavering to one side or separating from each other?
- Are your knees straight?
- Are you breathing evenly?
- Is your throat relaxed?
- Are your feet and calves relaxed?
- Propped up Shoulder Stand Pose Feet on the Wall (Salamba Sarvangasana Feet on the Wall): Using blankets, a mat, and a wall, this variation lets your feet press into the wall to take some pressure off your shoulders.
- Plow Pose Foot on the Wall (Halasana Foot on the Wall): This is technically a variation of plow pose, but people often use halasana as a preparatory pose for sarvangasana. Using blankets and a mat again, this pose involves pressing one foot against the wall while keeping the other erect as the front of your body faces the wall.
- One-Legged Shoulder Stand Pose (Eka Pada Sarvangasana): This variation has just one leg pointing upward while the other extends above and behind the head with the toe touching the floor.
- Shoulder Stand Pose Wide Legs (Salamba Sarvangasana Konasana): Follow steps one through six above, and then slowly pull your legs apart as wide as they can go. Then, flex your feet while stabilizing your body with your neck and hands.
- Half Shoulder Stand Pose Bicycle Legs (Ardha Sarvangasana Pada Sanchalanasana): Follow steps one through six above, and then slowly move both legs toward your head until they reach a 45-degree angle, bending from your lower back. Bend your left knee so the crook of your knee makes a 90-degree angle. Your legs should look like they are about to pedal a bicycle.