Salamba Sarvangasana translates as “supported whole body pose”. It is commonly known as shoulder stand.
“Why do we do shoulder-stand?” A student asked me this in class last week. Good question.
Mr Iyengar says it is the most important of all the poses, “one of the greatest boons conferred on humanity by our ancient sages”. “If a person regularly practises Sarvangasana he will feel new vigour and strength, and will be happy and confident,” he writes, in Light on Yoga.
The detailed benefits he outlines include:
– Helping the thyroid and parathyroid glands (in the neck) to function properly; due to the firm chinlock, their blood supply is increased.
– Because the body is inverted, the venous blood flows to the heart without any strain from gravity, allowing healthy blood to flow around the neck and chest. This helps people with asthma, breathlessness, bronchitis and throat ailments.
– Headaches disappear; nerves are soothed, bringing relief to those with hypertension, irritation, shortness of temper, nervous breakdown and insomnia.
– Common colds are eradicated by continued practice of this asana.
– Abdominal organs also affected by gravity, so that the bowels move freely and constipation vanishes. Urinary and menstrual problems, as well as hernia and piles, can be helped by it.
Using a platform of blocks in the Iyengar method keeps the neck from being compressed and takes away an element which could otherwise cause pain or injury.
The student who asked the question doesn’t enjoy shoulder-stand. It is a difficult pose. It is the first full inversion where the student has to hold the body-weight with the shoulders and arms, which do not usually carry the body-weight. (Because of this, we do not usually introduce it in Iyengar yoga classes until the student has attended classes for at least three months; by then they have learnt to open the chest and shoulders, and gained strength.) We do the pose near the end of the class, when we are more tired. This is because the pose is calming to the mind after some of the more stimulating poses earlier in the class.
Although I understand the dislike that some students have for shoulder-stand – who hasn’t felt tired at the end of the class and begrudged the last effort necessary to do a good shoulder-stand? – it is worth persevering with it. In time, you find you develop the strength in the arms and shoulders to maintain the lift of the body, and learn to work in the legs so they are lifting the pose up rather than weighing it down. You begin to feel less heavy; you begin to feel light in the pose. Certainly I find I am enjoying it more and more. As you progress there are more variations you can do in the pose and that can be a lot of fun!