Want to learn more about Sarvangasana, aka Shoulder Stand? In this post, I share the benefits of Sarvangasana, a complete pose breakdown, contraindications, myths, modifications and more.
I remember the first workshop I went to that involved Sarvangasana. We held the pose for 7 minutes. After the pose, I told the teacher that my legs were so sore and I had never worked that hard in the pose before. His response was something along the lines of, “Good. Now you are finally doing Sarvangasana properly!”
This experience gave me a love for practicing Shoulder Stand for extended periods.
It makes me feel so good to stay in Sarvangasana for 5 minutes or more. I come out feeling I have had a full-body experience, which makes sense since the pose is called Whole Body Supported Pose when we translate the Sanskrit name literally.
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Sarvangasana Quick Facts
|Sanskrit||Sarvangasana / Salamba Sarvangasana|
|English||Shoulder Stand / Shoulderstand|
|Meaning||Sa (pronounced sha) means together with or accompanied by. |
Alamba means a prop or a support.
Salamba (or Shalamba) means supported or with support.
Sarva means entire and anga means limbs.
Sarvanga means all limbs or the entire body.
Full name translates as All Limbs Supported Pose or Whole Body Supported Pose.
Commonly known as Shoulder Stand.
Note: I only include the scientifically supported benefits of Sarvangasana here. Plenty of claims about other supposed benefits (from the plausible to the magical to the ridiculous) have been made. To me, pseudo-scientific claims only serve to harm the yoga community, so I choose not to give them airtime here.
Mr. Iyengar describes this pose in Light on Yoga, as:
…one of the greatest boons conferred on humanity by our ancient sages. Sarvangasana is the Mother of asanas.”– B.K.S Iyengar
However, he then goes on to describe a long list of health issues that he claims, with no scientific proof whatsoever, that this pose will alleviate or cure. You can read that list in Light on Yoga but remember that even Iyengar didn’t know everything about everything.
Despite the questionable claims, Sarvangasana does have many benefits. It helps to strengthen and stretch many parts of your body.
- Strengthens your shoulder and neck muscles.
- Helps open your shoulders.
- When done with alignment, it helps build strength in your legs.
- The action of holding your whole body up builds strength in your core and your whole torso.
If you want more, see our complete guide to the benefits of yoga, which includes a history of yoga plus the origins of our modern yoga practice and much more.
Precautions & Contraindications
Remember that while yoga is for everyone, not all poses are for all people!
You should avoid Sarvangasana or practice it with extreme care if you have:
- high blood pressure
- back pain or spine injury
- certain heart problems (consult your doctor)
- throat or ear infection (this pose might cause discomfort)
Misconceptions & Myths About Shoulder Stand
Inversions and the lymphatic system
Despite what you may read, inversions do not cleanse your lymphatic system. The lymphatic system filters bacteria, abnormal cells, etc from your blood, and sends the clean fluid back towards your heart.
Inversions and menstruation
It is often repeated by yoga teachers, and in yoga texts, the women should never do an inversion when they are menstruating. Usually, the teacher doesn’t give a reason or any kind of explanation.
There are lots of theories floating around, including ideas involving “reversal of menstrual flow”, “bad blood”, endometriosis, apana, and more. None of it stands up under scrutiny.
If you don’t want to invert when menstruating, that’s up to you. If you want to, that’s also up to you. Inverting, just like everything else in yoga, is a choice. It’s your choice.
Sarvangasana Pose Breakdown
How to do Sarvangasana / Shoulder Stand
- Place three yoga blankets neatly on top of each other on your mat, with approximately fifteen centimetres (six inches) of space from the top edge of your mat.
- Fold your mat over so that it covers three quarters of the folded blankets, leaving some space uncovered.
- As an option you can place one or two blocks at the bottom of the blanket/mat combo.
- Sit down on the ground and lie down so that you back is on the mat/blanket combo, with your shoulder blades on just the blankets, and the back of your head resting on the mat. Have your knees bent and your feet on the ground.
Note: If you are using a block, have the block horizontally across your sacrum.
- Use inertia to swing your legs up and overhead into Halasana (Plow Pose). Interlace your hands and walk your shoulders towards each other.
- Place your hands on your back near the bottom of your rib cage, with your elbows shoulder distance apart, and push the back of your ribs towards the top of your mat.
- Bend your knees to bring your feet off the ground and point your knees up towards the ceiling, with your heels drawing in towards your buttocks. Note: You can, in time, transition with straight legs from Halasana into Sarvangasana.
- Squeeze your thighs and knees towards each other to strengthen your legs and then straighten your legs up towards the ceiling.
- Floint your feet (Barbie feet, half pointed, half dorsiflexed) to activate the muscles on all sides of your shins.
- Push down through your upper arms and shoulders.
- Approximately every 30 seconds, or as needed, walk your hands down towards your shoulder blades so that you can encourage your torso upright as much as possible.
- Push down through your shoulders and upper arms and stretch up through your torso and legs.
- This is Sarvangasana, or Shoulder Stand Pose.
- Exit as you entered. Take a moment in Halasana and then slowly unroll your spine, shift forward on your back until just your head rests on the blanket/mat combo.
- Rest in Savasana for a few minutes.
Modifications & Variations
If you’re new to the pose:
- Placing a yoga block under your hips before coming up can help you get the lift of your hips and torso needed to get into the pose.
- Viparita Karani, or Legs Up the Wall Pose, is a good preparatory stage of Sarvangasana and is more accessible than the full pose for many people.
If you don’t have blankets:
- Sarvangasana can be practiced without blankets, however, if doing so, you must ensure that you can maintain the natural curve in your neck (cervical spine). I wouldn’t recommend Sarvangasana without blankets if you’re new to the pose.
If you have neck pain:
- If there is pain in your neck or your spine rounds a lot in the set-up for this pose do not bring your feet off the ground.
If your elbows keep slipping wider than your shoulder:
- You can use a yoga strap tied around your upper arms to keep them shoulder distance apart. However, it can be awkward to get into the pose with the strap already on so you may need a yoga friend to help you with this.
If you have slippery hands:
- If you find your hands slip a lot try moving your shirt out of the way and placing your hands directly on the skin of your back. This can offer better grip (unless you are practicing in a hot environment and are sweating a lot).
If you want the pose to be more accessible:
- There is a great modification using a yoga chair that is common in the Iyengar yoga practice. I love the variation as it helps make the pose more accessible to students and also allows everyone to be able to hold the pose for longer.
Poses Related to Sarvangasana
Preparatory Poses for Sarvangasana
- Viparita Karani / Legs Up the Wall Pose
- Setu Bandha Sarvangasana / Bridge Pose
- Navasana / Boat Pose
- Halasana / Plough Pose
- Karnapidasana / Ear Pressure Pose
- Purvottanasana / Intense Stretch of the East Pose (aka Upward Plank)
- Shalabhasana / Locust Pose
- Halasana / Plough Pose
- Balasana / Child’s Pose
- Savasana / Corpse Pose
Poses to Take Your Practice Further
There is a Sarvangasana Cycle recommended in Light on Yoga which you can work on once you can hold Shoulder Stand for 5–7 minutes.
Other related poses you can try include:
- Eka Pada Sarvangasana
- Niralamba Sarvangasana 2
- Niralamba Sarvangasana 1
- Sarvangasana 2
- Parsvaika Pada Sarvangasana
- Parsva Sarvangasana
- Padmasana in Parsva Sarvangasana
Related Posts & Videos
- Post: Padmasana Pose Benefits & Breakdown
- Post: Vajrasana Pose Benefits & Breakdown
- Video: Sarvangasana Pose Breakdown
Gear & Resources for this Pose
- BKS Iyengar’s Light on Yoga
- Darren Rhodes Yoga Resource Practice Manual
- Stephen’s Favourite Eco-Friendly Yoga Mat
- Cork Yoga Blocks
- Organic Cotton Yoga Straps
- Machine Washable Vegan Yoga Blankets
- Folding Yoga Chair
Save 10% – Yoloha yoga gear, including cork yoga mats and blocks, organic cotton yoga straps, bolsters and more, is 10% off when you use our code adventure10 at checkout!
A Final Note About Shoulder Stand Pose
Shalamba Sarvangasana is a pose that I find extremely calming and almost meditative — particularly when I use props to support me in the pose. I recommend checking out some of the propped variations online and trying them out on your own, or going to your local Iyengar yoga studio to practice them with an instructor.
Namaste OMies, Stephen
I hope this post has been helpful in expanding your possibilities with Shoulder Stand. It’s my goal to inspire you to explore your yoga practice more deeply while enabling you to cultivate the strength and clarity needed to live your life adventure to the fullest!