Asana Studies: Shoulderstand Pose: Examining the Physical and Philosophical Dimensions of Sarvangasana

This pose is good to insert later in your workout, once your legs and spine have become active. This pose is demanding, and should not be pursued without very strong guidelines or (preferably) an experienced yogi.

Physical Nature of Shoulderstand

The idea behind a Shoulderstand is simple: you invert everything you’ve done in Mountain Pose, up to the shoulders. Your body should extend upwards from the mat, propped up by your hands and pointing at the sky. Do not try Shoulderstand without much more thorough instruction: here is a place to get it on the web if you can’t find a yogi to teach you.

The extent to which your neck should be bent during Shoulderstand is tricky. According to B.K.S. Iyengar, your neck should be at a 90-degree angle with your body, but that assumes you can do so without injury to yourself. It’s most important that you don’t overreach your limits. By approaching discomfort and then taking a step back, you can find out how straight your body should be.

One of the dangers of Shoulderstand is throat tension. You may find that you can feel your pulse very strong in your neck and that you have trouble breathing. If this is the case relax your throat and lighten your stretch.

One of the shortcuts to avoid in the Shoulderstand is to lift your legs with your glutes. Like in Mountain Pose, the body should be kept erect with strong abdominals and strong back muscles. As always, avoid unnecessary tension and exertion.

Philosophical Nature of Shoulderstand

There are two interesting epiphanies to be gained from Shoulderstand. It is one of the simplest inversions, and is often described as “offering a new perspective.” The body can function in ways opposite to what you are used to, and it can do so at your command.

Shoulderstand is an empowering pose because, unlike the standing poses which precede it, it causes the body to act unnaturally. The physical sensations of the upside-down blood flow and the inverted sense of balance establish a ground for epiphanies of self-mastery. The notion of the body serving the spirit is well grounded in this pose.

Also of interest in this pose is the inevitable self-correction. As you maintain the pose, you get closer and closer to a perfect upside-down posture. What seemed straight after one minute of Shoulderstand seems deeply and obviously crooked by the third. The continuing process of self-correction and approach to an unreachable center casts interesting lights on the journey of yoga itself.

Conclusion

Shoulderstand is a dangerous pose, but one worth approaching. It has interesting intimations about the nature of yoga and the body, and is a powerful tool to increase spinal flexibility.

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