This month’s pose is Sarvangasana, or Shoulder Stand. In Sanskrit, Sarva means “all” or “entire” and Anga means “organ” or “body part.” Translated, it means “full body pose” or “good for all limbs” because of its benefits for the whole body. This posture typically comes towards the end of an asana practice as it is a part of the Ashtanga yoga closing sequence, and is safest to take after the body has been warmed with movement.
To come into shoulder stand, you might begin in plow pose with the toes on the floor behind the head. Slide the palms with the fingers facing upward, just above the hips, and scooch the shoulders in together. Try to support yourself with your shoulders and not your neck. You may choose to take a folded blanket (or two!) underneath the shoulders to create space for the neck. The back is supported by the hands: once up, the hands reach lower down the trunk towards the head, and the trunk is lifted further; the legs may then be straightened to a vertical position. If plow pose is not accessible or feels unsafe for the neck, you may also lift the feet towards the ceiling, bend the knees in towards the chest, and engage the abdominal muscles to rock the hips into the air. Tuck the tailbone, and keep your gaze on the toes to protect the cervical spine. The longer you spend in this posture, the lighter the feet and legs will feel as blood begins to float down into the trunk. If you are very comfortable in Sarvangasana, try bringing the hips over the shoulders. Remember to keep breathing, even though the breath will feel more shallow. To come out of this inversion, slowly bend the knees and bring the soles of the feet back down to the mat. Feel the sacrum release down, and then take the feet out wide on the mat and let the knees fall together. Fish Pose is also a great counter pose and is often done after shoulder stand to relieve neck tension.
If shoulder stand does not feel safe or comfortable, you can always take the supported version, which is called Waterfall. To come into Waterfall, begin on the back with the feet planted on the mat and the knees pointing upward. Press into the soles of the feet to lift the hips and then slide a block on its lowest or middle setting underneath the sacrum. Once the block is securely in place, lift the feet into the air. As with traditional Shoulder Stand, maintain a point of focus on the feet to protect the neck.
Because of our relationship with gravity, Shoulder Stand can feel like quite the novelty: it’s not often we get to be upside down! Take advantage of the opportunity to find some play, perhaps by wiggling each individual toe or pretending like you’re walking on the ceiling.