Instructor: Sarah N.
Sarah has completed an intensive yoga teacher training program in Pune, India at the BKS Iyengar Yoga Institute. She has been inspired to continue practicing and teaching yoga for life.

Supported Shoulderstand: Step-by-Step Instructions


This Shoulderstand version with a blanket support is the safest way to perform the pose in order to avoid neck injuries. Only very advanced yogic practitioners should perform Shoulderstand without a support because of the risk of injuring the cervical spine.

Step by Step Pose Information Benefits Variations Partnering

Salamba Sarvangasana

(Pronounced as "SAH-luhm-buh sar-VAHN-GAHS-anna")

Salamba means "accompanied by a prop," and Sarvanga means "all the limbs." In this posture, you balance all the limbs of your body on top of your shoulders. When you practice the variation of Shoulderstand in the future without support, they call it Niralamba Sarvangasana, meaning an "unsupported" Shoulderstand. You pronounce that prefix as "near-AH-lum-bah."

How to do the Supported Shoulderstand

Step One

Fold three yoga blankets so that they measure about two feet wide and one foot long. Stack them on top of each other and place them on top of your yoga mat in such a way that all the rounded, folded edges align with the short edge of your mat. Now fold the opposite short end of your yoga mat over on top of the stack of blankets. Place a yoga block next to the center of the blanket stack so that its short edge touches the stack. If you have a very hard stone-like floor under your mat, then you can also spread out a towel on the floor on the opposite side of the blanket support you've made from where the block is.

Step Two

Lie down in such a way that the back of your head is on the towel, the tops of your shoulders align with the edge of the folded blankets, and your lower spine lies on top of the yoga block. Lay your hands down next to your sides. Lift your knees up to rest against your chest. Put your palms against the sides of your hips and bend the arms so that your elbows now press down onto the blankets. Adjust your elbows so that they are no more than shoulder-width apart. On an exhalation, push your upper arms and elbows down on the support as you swing your knees close to your head. Lift your buttocks straight up to the ceiling as you keep your knees bent.

Step Three

Next, slide your hands as far down your back as you can to support the lift of your chest toward your chin. Your fingertips should be close to your spine. On an exhalation, lift your knees up so that they are exactly above your shoulders. Your feet stay dangling down near your buttocks as you focus on extending your knees as high up toward the ceiling as you can.

Step Four

Press your hands firmly into your back as you now extend your whole body up straight to the ceiling. Slowly straighten the legs and point the feet up to the sky. Your whole body should be perpendicular to the floor from your ankles to your shoulders. Extend your legs through the heels. Relax your throat. Keep your shoulder blades tucked in. Gaze up at your toes. Keep your elbows near each other.

Step Five

Begin by holding the posture for 30 seconds or longer if you can. Gradually build up the time to 2 minutes or more as you become confident with it after more practice. Come out of the posture on a long exhalation by bending your knees. Use the support of your hands to help slowly lower your back down onto the support. Rest here for some time with your head on the floor and shoulders remaining on the support to relax your neck.

Beginner's Tip:

It's important to stop your elbows from sliding apart from each other because then your pose will start collapsing. You can help yourself by using a yoga belt. Put your arms slightly behind your back as you slide the belt loop around the bottom of your upper arms just above the elbows. Adjust the loop so that you can lie down with the belt against your back while it holds your elbows in line with your shoulders. Then lay on the blanket support as described earlier and come into the pose.

Pose Information

Sanskrit Name:

Salamba Sarvangasana

Pose Level:

Level 2

Contraindications and Cautions:

  1. Excessive bowel movements or diarrhea
  2. Head, neck or shoulder injuries less than 3 months old
  3. Menstruation
  4. For high blood pressure: Only practice this pose under the guidance of an experienced teacher.
  5. For pregnancy: If you have prior experience with this pose, then you can practice it through the first trimester. If you have had any miscarriages or want to practice Shoulderstand after that, then consult an experienced yoga instructor first.
  6. The first time you perform this pose: Do not do it alone. Have an experienced instructor watch you. It is safer for most people to learn Shoulderstand before learning Headstand.

Modifications and Props:

If it is very difficult for you to hold this posture, then you can practice it with a chair. Use a sturdy chair with a firm, flat seat. Set up your blanket support for your shoulders as described in step one earlier. The only difference is that you will place the blanket stack on the floor right in front of the chair. Now sit in the chair facing the chair's back and put the backs of your knees on top of the back of the chair. This way, your legs can firmly grab the back support of your chair. Gripping the chair back tightly with your legs, slowly lean back all the way until your shoulders are resting on the edge of the blanket support in front of the chair on the ground.

Have a partner help you lean back into the posture if you feel unsteady. Here the edge of the chair's seat will support your tailbone. As you finally straighten your legs, the edge of the chair back will support your calves. Grab onto the chair legs for extra stability as you gradually practice lifting yourself off of the chair when your strength increases.

Deepen the Pose:

To get the full lift in your torso that you need in Shoulderstand, spread the palms of your hands and press the entire surface of your hands evenly into your back. Especially press hard with the bottom "heels" of your hands into the backs of your ribs as you lift your sternum toward your chin. Tuck in your shoulder blades and try to gradually move your hands lower down the back so that they get closer to your head than before.

Benefits:

  • Provides therapeutic benefits for people suffering from hypertension and other thyroid problems
  • Helps relax the nervous system to relieve insomnia
  • Improves respiratory health
  • Soothes the heart for people who suffer from irregular heart palpitations
  • Promotes recovery from colds and sinus infections
  • Helps to reduce inflammation of the intestines
  • Encourages regular bowel movements
  • Aids your body in recovering faster from urinary tract disorders, hernias and hemorrhoids
  • Promotes health of the reproductive organs
  • Helps to reposition a prolapsed uterus in women
  • Boosts your mood and helps reduce the effects of stress
  • Stretches out tension in the shoulders and neck
  • Builds strength in the legs and buttocks

Variations:

Once you are comfortable in Sarvangasana, then try the one-legged variation known as Eka Pada Sarvangasana, pronounced "ACHE-ah PAH-dah." The Sanskrit word eka means "one," and pada means "foot." After you are in the full Shoulderstand, tighten your left thigh and do not allow the left leg to move as you slowly lower the straightened right leg down. Keep your hips straight as you bend the right leg from the pelvis until the right leg is parallel to the floor with your right foot behind your head. Stay here for up to 30 seconds. Then inhale as you lift the right leg back up. Repeat the same steps with your left leg and hold it for the same duration.

Partnering:

Ask a partner to help you improve the two areas that are most likely to cause you problems in this posture: the lift in the upper back and the positioning of the legs. First, have them kneel down facing your back after you are up in the pose. Then they should press their hands in between your shoulder blades near the upper middle of your back on both sides of your spine. Use that boost to help yourself lift your sternum toward your chin more. Then they should check that you have straightened your legs so that your ankles are directly above the center of your shoulders. Ask them to pull your ankles up slightly while adjusting your legs to align your posture better.

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