by Barbara Benagh
I have great sympathy for students who struggle with Salamba Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand) . Because of an old neck injury, Salamba Sarvangasana used to be quite difficult for me. My neck and upper back ached in the pose and throbbed for several minutes after I came out of it. About twice a year I would strain muscles in my upper back while practicing Shoulderstand. I sought the advice of teachers, who all came to my aid by adding more and more props. Before long, my Shoulderstand was supported by four blankets, a belt tied around my upper arms, and a chair positioned under my hips.
One day, surrounded by these accoutrements, I took stock of my situation and realized that while the outer form of my pose would pass muster, I had no insight whatsoever about how to actually do Shoulderstand! Like a tree with shallow roots, I had to be propped up in order to stand at all.
My predicament begged the question: How were the props helping me? Though the many blankets did reduce my level of discomfort, after much reflection I concluded that props must also give guidance and understanding so they can eventually be discarded. In other words, props are not meant to be just a crutch. Mine were, so I threw them away–except one blanket and a wall, which I used for support until, after a couple of years, I educated and strengthened myself enough to perform the actions needed to do Shoulderstand unassisted.
Knowing that I am not alone in struggling with Shoulderstand, I share my story because I hope it encourages you to persevere in seeking a solution to any problems you may encounter in this important inversion. Most often called "the mother of asanas," Shoulderstand is a potent pose that should be an integral part of almost every serious student's asana practice.
Inversions like Shoulderstand are so powerful because, as earthbound creatures, we are so strongly affected by the long-term impact of gravity. Over the years our bodies begin to, well ... sag. This decline is clearly visible in our skin, but there are much more important unseen consequences to gravity's relentless drag. After years of combating gravity, all the organs, especially the heart and the rest of the circulatory system, grow sluggish, which results in less nourishment to our cells and leaves us vulnerable to heart disease, fatty deposits in the blood vessels, varicose veins, and other effects of aging.
Though the effects of gravity are inevitable, we can do a great deal to counteract its impact. Like the original yogis, we can cleverly beat gravity at its own game by turning the body upside down. This simple action benefits the whole body. No wonder the early yoga masters stressed the importance of inversions and said Headstand and Shoulderstand could conquer old age!
• Improves circulation and can reduce hypertension (high blood pressure)
• Balances thyroid and parathyroid glands
• Helps treat female reproductive disorders
• Helps manage asthma
• Some chronic neck problems
• Extreme hypertension