Salamba Sarvangasana By Felise Berman©

Salamba Sarvangasana By Felise Berman©

Salamba Sarvangasana

Shoulder Stand- Shiva Shanti Yoga School.

Salamba = support, Sarva = whole, Anga = body or limb, Asana = seat or posture.
BE different, lets see from a new perspective.  When you reverse your stance, the effects of gravity decompress the spine, creating a new erect disposition, waking up vital energy flows in the body, restoring blood flow to the brain and endocrine system. Inverted asanas create opposition that releases pressure and tends to have a stabilizing effect. We are the only species to hold ourselves in a vertical upright position maintaining the spinal column in a straight line. Let’s take that one step further and reinvent our interior and exterior world, perceiving our body, minds and spirit in a whole new way. Inverting our bodies moves the blood in opposition throughout the body, thereby facilitating change. Having the willingness to change is what this asana is about for me, because over the years I have noticed great change in my body, mind and spirit when doing this asana, especially when I try to hold it for several minutes. When the body is inverted, a rich supply of oxygenated blood is sent to the organs and glands in the upper part of the body, such as the brain, thyroid, pituitary and heart. This stimulates and pumps new life into areas ordinarily untouched by highly oxygenated blood. This asana is known as the “Mother” pose, the Queen of the asanas. No matter what environment you place your physical body in, when you are committed to yoga, you will soar if you are willing to be vigilant. In the 1st Pada, 13th sutra of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, he states “Tatra Shitau Yatno Bhyasah.” This means that if you remain steady in your efforts and vigilant in your practice, you will improve. It is not easy to stay inverted, strive towards holding sarvangasana for five minutes, to attain the most lasting benefits. However, you must build up to that duration, so it’s good to start with holding the position for 10 breaths.

Benefits of Shoulderstand: Improves energy balance and metabolism by wringing out the thyroid and parathyroid glands. Stretches the muscles of the neck.  Revitalizes the nerves, purifies the blood and promotes good circulation.  Invigorates and strengthens the respiratory system.  Improves circulation. Increases the supply of blood to the brain and, under gentle pressure, irrigates it Stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which slows the heartbeat and calms the mind.  The pituitary glands together with the hypothalamus are thought to govern and stimulate hormonal production of the other endocrine glands, and these are also stimulated in the pose.  Drains the abdomen and temporarily eliminates congestion in the digestive system.  Brings a plentiful supply of blood to the face, especially to the forehead, where the skin at once becomes pink, increases the blood supply to the scalp, and nourishes the roots of the hair.  Helps alleviate depression.  It extends the cervical section of the spine, giving it a powerful stretch.  Rests the heart by using gravity to stimulate venous return. Relieves pressure from veins in the lower body (varicose veins).  Encourages deep abdominal breathing and helps to relieve gas and constipation, and stimulates digestion.  Opens up the shoulders.  Stimulates the vishuddha chakra (throat center).  Reduces lethargy, mental sluggishness and It can help those suffering from nasal disturbances and the common cold.

Instructional Steps and Using Props: Many teachers highly recommend using folded blankets under the shoulders with the back of the head on the floor to help preserve a curved space beneath the lower neck and to prevent injury. If you’re new to shoulderstand or tight in the neck and shoulders, you’ll find it helpful to practice with the shoulders elevated a few inches off the floor. You can do this by using folded blankets that are at least as wide as your shoulders and deep enough so your elbows fit on it. This will cause less stress on the neck and help to keep both the shoulders and elbows grounded, making it easier to lengthen the vertebrae of the neck (especially C7, the knobby bone protruding on the back of the neck). Align your shoulders with the edge of the blanket and lie down over the blankets, head and back on the floor. Make sure that there is enough room behind you.

Instructions: Lie flat on your back, with your feet together, stretching the torso long. (Optional) Using a belt, loop the belt and thread your upper arms into the belt and bring the belt just above your elbows on your upper arm (a strap around the upper arms will keep your elbows from splaying). Make sure you are on a non-slip surface to keep arms and elbows in place
Inhaling, lift both legs together towards the ceiling to a perpendicular position. Raise the legs together gracefully until they are on about a 45-degree angle to the ground. Then lift the buttocks, trunk and legs up to a 90-degree position, and raise the body upward in a gradual way. Students with less flexibility can use the floor to help go up until the legs are straight. Advanced students can lift the legs straight up.  Rest the elbows on the ground firmly and support the back with both the palms and fingertips spread out wide pointing towards your buttock. Tuck your tailbone in and keep pulling the abdominal muscles in, rooting the tailbone in and up to keep the pelvis from tipping backward. Draw navel-point in and reach tailbone towards the heels. Let the legs separate a bit and turn them strongly inward (inner thighs rolling to the back of the legs), then stretch the tailbone up and squeeze the inner thighs together, stretching your cervical and thoracic regions.  Bend the elbows, striving to keep them shoulder-width apart, and place the hands on the upper back to assist in lifting the torso. Straighten the trunk with the hands until the chin is well set in the hollow of the neck, not locked. Keep your hands pressing firmly into the back, the heals of your hands reaching towards your shoulder blades and fingers facing up towards your head to keep the elbows from splaying out.  Roll each shoulder under to increase the weight onto the shoulders, and lift your thoracic spine in a vertical position. The arms and shoulders should primarily support the weight of the body; the head is light against the floor.  Bring the breastbone towards the chin, aligning the chin with the center of the breastbone, but don’t lock your chin into your neck. Relax the neck and draw the palate (roof of the mouth) back away from the chin.  Extend the groin and inner legs, feet up, and tighten the back thigh muscles to keep the legs vertical. Move the sacrum in, the pubis and tailbone up. Lengthen inner legs, heels and balls of feet as you ground down through the shoulders and elbows.  Stay and breathe.

Releasing out of the Pose: On the exhale, gradually move the palms towards the hips and let the body come down slowly to the floor for a smooth return. When the hips touch the ground, slowly lower the legs, bending the knees if you need to protect your lower back. Place your palms on the floor on both sides of the body and unroll your body, vertebra by vertebra, to the floor. Release your hands from the back, extend your legs on the floor and unfold as one unrolls a carpet. When your entire back touches the floor, straighten the knees slowly and lower your legs and rest, moving off the blankets.

Proper Alignment:

  1. The chin should be reaching towards the chest.
  2. Triceps and shoulder blades close together, pressing the elbows into the floor.
  3. Weight should be evenly distributed on the shoulders.
  4. Palms flat on the back, fingertips towards feet, work heels of palms towards scapula.
  5. Hips knees and ankles should be directly over the shoulders; raise your hips and back and walk your hands down your back, lifting your body up.
  6. Reach your tailbone to heels, thighs and knees spiraling inward, both legs reaching up as one, legs together with the balls of the feet extending straight to the ceiling. Press your feet away from your head.
  7. Keep the body erect, stretching up.

Using the Wall:  Measure your belt from point to point on your shoulders, loop it, secure it and keep it by your side.  Fold your blanket 6 to 8 inches away from the wall with the folded edge pointing away from the wall.  Line your shoulders with the edge of your blanket. Head is facing away from the wall.  Walk your feet up the wall, then take the belt and place it on your upper arms right above your elbows to keep your arms from splaying.  With an inhale, scoop the pelvis, press the feet into the wall, push your elbows down and lift the hips up until they are above the shoulders. Walk the feet up the wall to where the shins are parallel to the floor. Keep stretching the tailbone up, lifting the torso, rooting the shoulders down, and lifting the cervical vertebrae away from the floor. As the top of the breastbone comes towards your chin, scrub your heels up the wall and rotate the inner thighs towards each other.  Bend the elbows and bring the palms of the hands to your back with the fingers pointing up, taking care to keep the elbows from splaying out, and lift the buttocks off the floor while walking your feet up the wall.  Stay leaning against the wall with straight or bent legs, eventually coming off the wall.  On the exhale, release your lower back and remove the belt, and come away from the wall and relax.

Dristi – Gaze: The recommended drishti, or gaze, is down the nose into the chest. This promotes a grounded calmness and effortless extension from your core.

Sequencing: Sarvangasana is best done near the end of a full practice.

Counterpose: Pratikriyâsana (against-posture): After practicing Sarvangasana, it is necessary to practice Matasayasana or Fish Pose as a counter-pose. Certain asanas activate certain parts of the body more than others. In order to reverse the difference of impact, such asanas are followed by particular asanas to create a balanced effect. Sarvangasana is typically followed by Matasayasana to create and expansion in the thoracic spine and to create a counter-stretch in thyroid and neck.

Vinyasa: (Linking the breath to your movement): Inhale lying on your back, Exhale, prepare (straight arms and legs), Inhale, lift your legs up over your head and bend your elbows, placing hands on upper back for support. Stay and focus on your breath, Exhale, release torso, arms, legs and feet onto the floor.

Tips on breathing: Breathe deeply into your abdomen, without forcing, Do not hold the breath as you move in and out of the asana, If you experience difficulty in breathing, raise the height of the blanket by adding more padding, The pressure of the sternum against the chin inhibits breathing from the top of the lungs and limits thoracic movements, so that the breathing automatically becomes diaphragmatic, Breathe slowly and deeply, regulating your breath. Take a deep full inhalation and a complete release of the exhalation. The inhalation and exhalation should be similar in duration

Precautions: DO NOT place your elbows wider than your shoulders. DO NOT tilt your head to the right or the left.  DO NOT balance on your neck Remember: this is a SHOULDER stand, not a neck-stand.  If you are a woman who is menstruating, you should not do inversions.  Consult a physician if you have: Cervical or spinal injuries, excessive obesity, Severe hypertension and high or low blood pressure, Problems with the eyes (conjunctivitis), myopia; glaucoma or other eye disease , Problems with your hips and shoulders,  Cardiac problems, Organic disorders of the thyroid gland.

“tatra shitau yatno bhyasah”
“practice is the steadfast way to still fluctuations” BKS Iyengar


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