Posted by: eveyoga | December 21, 2011

The Meaning of Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand)


The translated meaning of Sarvangasana is “whole body pose”. It is often prefaced by Salamba, meaning supported. Your hands support your spine, while upper arms and shoulders form the bedrock of the pose.

For many years I couldn’t grasp how to get my whole body involved in shoulderstand;  the ideal shape of the pose appeared like a shimmering but distant mirage to me. I would struggle to get upright. The effort exhausted me. Then, my kidneys would start to ache and I’d have to come down, if I’d been in the pose for more than several minutes.

Maybe I have masochistic tendencies, but I hung in there. I’m talking decades. I would just try different props and set-ups. I’d go to a workshop and get some new approach, but not much seemed to help.

Perseverance has paid off. I include Sarvangasana in my short list of important and favourite poses. I’m not quite as rhapsodic as B.K.S.Iyengar in Light on Yoga where he says:

The importance of Sarvangasana cannot be over-emphasised. It is one of the greatest boons to be conferred on mankind by our ancient sages….If a person regularly practises Sarvangasana…new life will flow into him, his mind will be at peace and he will feel the joy of life.

However, I am pretty sold on it as a pose that balances energy – peps you up if you’re flagging and chills you out if you’re overstimulated.

Some other benefits: I find Sarvangasana has a wonderful way of removing shoulder tension. When I miss out on doing practice for some time, my neck seems to suffer, and I’m sure that the neck flexion in the pose and weight bearing on the cervical vertebrae have a salubrious effect.

Because I had to learn so much about Sarvangasana to make my peace with the pose, I have a whole repository of props I can suggest to my students. I’ve also learned optimum ways of using my body in the pose. I now balance my weight on my outer shoulders by using the strength and length of my triceps. I can get more lift in the pose by using middle buttock muscles and outer hips.

Here’s one variation for students who have trouble lifting up, suggested in Donald Moyer’s excellent book, Awakening the Inner Body:

Supported Sarvangasana

It’s said that the inverted postures are the family of poses that are youth-ifying. If that’s true I must count myself fortunate that I learned the pose before I became old 🙂


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