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Shoulderstand, the Queen of Asanas

Updated: Jun 1, 2019


The Shoulderstand (Sarvangasana) is revered for its many physiological benefits.

Dr Geeta S Iyengar observed that often practitioners do all the asanas but omit inversions (Shoulderstand & Headstand) and says "it is absolutely wrong and unpardonable. Inversions are the backbone of the practice of asanas. One may miss the other asanas due to lack of time, but should not miss the regular practice of inversions, except during menstruation. Inversions control the metabolism of the body, keep a check on blood pressure, maintain glucose levels and chemical balance. They yield emotional balance, stimulate the intellectual centre and refresh the mind".


The body being inverted, the effect of the gravity is reversed on the internal organs which brings them relief. The blood flows to the heart without any strain as well as the chest, neck, throat and shoulders which receive an increased blood supply. It is therefore recommended for breathlessness, palpitations, bronchitis and throat ailment, as well as headaches and colds.

The effect of gravity on the abdominal organs helps relieve constipation and improves digestion. The Shoulderstand is also recommended for utinary disorders, prolapsed uterus, menstrual problems, and hermorrhoids. It prevents and reduces varicosity, relieves tightness and fatigue in the legs. The pose improves circulation and waste elimination.


The Shoulderstand should not be practised during menstruation (see below for options) but is recommended afterwards to dry up. It helps with menstrual cramps and it regulates menstrual flow, and is good for menopausal symptoms.


Above all the Shoulderstand regulates and stimulates the thyroid and parathyroid glands. It is calming and soothing to the nerves, so it is good for irritability and insomnia and it increases vitality. This pose is excellent for teenagers.


On the physical level the Shoulderstand stretches and strengthens the neck, trunk, releases tension in the upper body, strengthens the buttocks, abdomen and back.


The Shoulderstand is not recommended for the following conditions (see pics below for options):

  • High blood pressure & heart conditions

  • Ear infection & eye conditions

  • Cervical arthritis or other neck issues

  • Overweight

  • Headache

  • Hyperthyroid

  • Backache

Because of its pacifying, cooling and soothing effect on the system, stimulating asanas are not to be practised after the Shoulderstand, instead forwards and supine poses are best.


It is advisable to learn the Shoulderstand, its variations and alternative poses with an experienced teacher.


Props you may need: a mat, 3 to 5 blankets or shoulder pads, a belt, a chair, a wall, 1 or 2 bolsters.


Below are some basic guidelines:


Points of focus

  • The body is perpendicular to the floor supported by the shoulders and the arms.

  • Elbows are shoulder width apart and pressed down.

  • Shoulders rolled back and away from the neck, neck free from pressure, throat soft.

  • The legs are in Tadasan, sacrum forward and thighs pressed back.

  • The chest is lifted to meet the chin, upper spine off the floor and lifted.

To derive most benefits the Shoulderstand pose should be practised regularly and can be held for up to 10 minutes or more.


Stages of practice to progress into the full pose (each stage may take weeks to master)


Plough pose with a chair

  1. Learn how to set up your base and Plough pose using the chair. Feet to the wall with knees bent, set up your base, then learn Plough pose.

  2. From Plough at the chair, practise One Legged Shouderstand

  3. From Plough at the chair, practise full Shoulderstand

  4. Once you've mastered the Shoulderstand, do Shoulderstand first and finish with the Plough (feet on chair or floor)

  5. Learn to swing the legs to the wall for Shoulderstand and Plough practice

Once you have mastered the Shouderstand and Plough poses, you would have gained stability and strength in the pose.

  1. Learn to swing the legs with bent knees into Plough then go into Shoulderstand.

  2. Learn the swing with straight legs into Plough then go into the Shoulderstand.

  3. Learn to swing the legs with bent knees into the Shoulderstand.

  4. Learn to swing with straight legs into the Shoulderstand.


Options when you are not doing the Shoulderstand:


Supported Bridge: menstruation + HBP

Restorative Shoulderstand: Neck & shoulders issues, recovering from an illness

Legs up the wall with 2 bolsters: Restorative option for Shoulderstand


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