Ever wanted to learn yoga? This ancient practice comes with serious health benefits. The benefits of the Shoulder Stand pose, coupled with its accessibility, make it an ideal gateway to yoga for a lot of people.
Quick! Here’s what you need to know about nailing Shoulder Stand before we get into the details:
- Shoulder Stand, also known as Salamba Sarvangasana in some yoga traditions, is a challenging introductory pose.
- The pose is an inversion, meaning you’re spending a lot of time upside down.
- It comes with health benefits for your back, your heart, and even your digestive system.
- You shouldn’t attempt Shoulder Stand if you’re working through an injury or have an underlying medical condition.
- There are several easier variations you can try to build up your technique and confidence before attempting Shoulder Stand.
But standing on your shoulders with your legs straight up in the air isn’t as easy as it sounds. Read on and learn how to pull it off safely with full confidence.
Shoulder Stand is an inversion, meaning your body is held upside down. This relieves the usual pressure on your spine caused by, well, being a human who’s subject to gravity.
Some research suggests that practicing inversions can reduce back pain and improve lower back flexibility. A small 2013 study also suggests this type of yoga provides heart health benefits without affecting blood pressure.
And it’s not just your bones and blood that might benefit from some upside-down time. Your internal organs also love a jiggle. A small 2018 study suggests that a yoga practice may help with digestive problems like irritable bowel syndrome.
More generally, though, yoga is known to be great for improving flexibility, strength, and balance. All those good things can come from building Shoulder Stand into your yoga routine.
Getting into the right position to attempt Shoulder Stand happens in five distinct phases:
- Seated Forward Bend
- Legs Up position
- Modified Plow
- Egg Pose
- Finally, Shoulder Stand itself
That sounds like a lot. But don’t worry. Think of it as one fluid sequence with a few checkpoints along the way for you to make sure your posture is correct. Here’s how to make it happen:
- Assume a Seated Forward Bend: Sit with legs together, extended in front of you. Relax your arms.
- Take a deep breath. As you breathe out, bend forward, extend hands toward feet, and bring your head down, facing your knees.
- Hold this position for a few beats once you feel the stretch in your legs and lower back.
- It’s time to put your legs up. Slowly uncurl your spine and roll onto your back.
- With your arms on either side of you, bend knees and place feet flat against the floor.
- Press arms into the floor to lift feet upward.
- Get into modified Plow Pose: Slowly move your raised feet backward, as far behind you as you can comfortably manage.
- Clasp hands behind your back, wiggling them up until they can support your weight.
- It’s Egg Pose time! Keep your elbows at least shoulder-width apart and bend your knees.
- Bring knees as close to forehead as feels comfortable for you.
- Finally… it’s time for your Shoulder Stand! From the Egg Pose, transfer the last of your weight from your back to your shoulders.
- Extend your legs up toward the ceiling. You’re now doing Shoulder Stand!
How to hold Shoulder Stand
Once you’re in your Shoulder Stand, keep your neck extended, with your chin nestling underneath your chest. Your arms and shoulders should be supporting your weight — your neck and chin are for balance.
While you’re in the pose, remember to breathe. At first, when everything feels strange and new, you may feel like holding your breath to stabilize yourself a bit. Don’t. You’ll only make your chest feel tight, and you’ll still wobble.
When it’s time to come out of the pose, slowly lower your legs back into Egg Pose and then forward until your feet are touching the floor.
It’s best to avoid just launching yourself back down to the floor — instead, take care to support yourself with your shoulders and hands all the way down.
Finding Shoulder Stand too hard to get into? Or maybe you can get there but can’t maintain it comfortably? Never fear — we’ll get you there. Here are some alternative versions of Shoulder Stand to build your confidence.
Supported Half Shoulder Stand
This is a good variation for those who can’t quite maintain a confident Shoulder Stand just yet. Supported Half Shoulder Stand gets you used to the opening movements while still giving you a safety net (or wall, in this case):
- Lie on your back next to a wall.
- Lift feet up and place them feet flat against the wall, with your knees bent at 90 degrees.
- Transfer your weight onto your upper back (don’t move it to your shoulders as you would in a regular Shoulder Stand).
- Slowly raise one leg off the wall and upward until you feel the stretch.
- Hold for a few beats, and then slowly lower your leg back down to the wall and repeat with the other leg.
If you have trouble, try placing a folded blanket under your shoulders, below your neck. That will help you perform the actions without flattening the curve of your upper spine.
Half Shoulder Stand with block
Adding a block to a Half Shoulder Stand supports your lower back right where it meets your pelvis. Here’s how it works:
- Lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat against the floor, hip-width apart.
- Raise your hips and slide a block underneath.
- Using the block for support, bend knees in toward your chest.
- Extend legs up toward the ceiling, keeping them together and keeping your weight supported by your upper back and shoulders.
- To come out of the pose, lower your legs one at a time back to the floor.
Using a strap around the upper arms
As you raise up into Shoulder Stand, you might find your arms naturally wanting to spread out instead of staying shoulder-width apart. This can cause issues with balance and posture. Using an adjustable strap around your upper arms can give you something to brace against.
Shoulder Stand is a relatively common yoga pose. When practiced safely and responsibly, it’s low risk. But, as with any physical activity, there are risks if you’re currently dealing with injuries or underlying health conditions.
Speak with a healthcare professional if you’re wondering whether Shoulder Stand is right for you.
Avoid trying Shoulder Stand if you’ve got these conditions
There are a few contraindications involving Shoulder Stand — in other words, some conditions mean it’s not safe to attempt the pose. The contraindications mostly relate to Shoulder Stand being an inversion that sends blood
We’ve explored the benefits of inversions, but be careful if you’re dealing with any of the following:rushing back up your body.
- High blood pressure or glaucoma. These conditions can complicate Shoulder Stand. The pose raises the blood pressure in your eyes, which you obviously don’t want.
- Detached retinas. These increase your risk of branch retinal vein occlusion (a blockage in one of the veins leading to your optic nerve) during inversions.
- Recent bone grafts. You may need to avoid positioning your head lower than your heart during the recovery period after a bone graft. This rules out Shoulder Stand unless you’ve gotten the OK from a medical professional.
- Osteoporosis. This condition causes weakened bones, which could make injury more likely when attempting postures like Shoulder Stand.
And of course, you should avoid poses like this if you’re currently working through any injuries to your shoulders or neck. Consult a physical therapist if you want to incorporate yoga into your recovery.
Tips for a safer Shoulder Stand
Even if you’re in perfectly good health, there are steps you can take to ensure a safer and more comfortable Shoulder Stand.
It’s essential that you take the time to warm up your neck, shoulders, spine, and hamstrings.
Practicing your neck posture also helps. You want your neck to be extended enough to help with balance but not overextended. Placing a folded blanket underneath your shoulders to support your upper back can help you get this exactly right.
Now you know the ins and outs of how to pull off a pretty challenging pose.
If you’re in good physical health, take it slow. There’s no reason Shoulder Stand couldn’t be your window into a new love affair with yoga. But even if you need some work to build up to the posture, you can still reap health benefits while you perfect it.
Stay focused and only compare yourself to how you were yesterday, not to some mega-flexible internet yogi. That’s an important spiritual lesson.