Yoga Shoulderstand for Beginners

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This video was filmed during a Yoga Teacher Training Intensive in the rolling coastal hills near Nosara, Costa Rica, so we apologize for the wind interference, which comes and goes. In case you miss part of the script, we’ve included it below 🙂

Script from video:

Today we are going to be looking at the shoulder stand, salamba sarvangasana, in which we are supporting the whole body. Shoulder stand is known as the queen of all asanas among yogis, mainly because it balances, or harmonizes the body – in particular the thyroid and parathyroid glands, and the throat, heart, third eye and crown chakras. A lot of energy moving in this (upper) area of the body. Helpful for drainage of the lymph fluid and getting the blood moving in the opposite way. It is an extremely beneficial posture and can be made accessible for anyone.
Today we have Elizabeth helping to demonstrate the shoulderstand. Starting from the most beginner version and moving onto more advanced versions.
Start out seated, lined up flush with the wall. We have some blankets set up behind us to support the shoulder and neck to create space in the neck as you roll back into the pose. Now turning onto the back and drawing the legs up the wall (viparita karani) taking a moment in this mild inversion.
Starting to take it further now, we begin to press down through the arms and hands, lift the hips and as the hips lift,  her knees will bend, sliding the feet down the wall about halfway. Hands immediately come to the hips and low back, spreading the fingers wide like cat paws. From here, try to focus on tucking the shoulders – the elbows come in closer together to create more expansion in the chest, and to help with overall alignment. Notice her neck here – see the extra space – she didn’t have to fold or crunch so much to get into this position. It creates more freedom for the neck with the support of the blanket(s).
From here, if we want to take it further she can try lifting one leg off at a time, straightening the leg and maybe holding there for a period of time. Exhale to release. Inhale, lifting the other leg.
From here, you can try kicking both legs off the wall slowely to rise up into a supported half shoulderstand. Bring the legs more into a V shaped position, taking the legs off the wall here and bring the hands closer down to the hips. Over time as the muscles in the back begin to get stronger and the shoulder girdle starts to open up, she is going to be able to straighten up the legs more and more. Eventually the ankles, knees, and hips are all going to align over the shoulders. As far as the feet go, you can do whatever you like here. You can spread toes out wide and press out through balls of the feet; you can point the toes up to the sky, or pull the toes down toward the shins. Breathing steadily here and smiling always helps to open the heart.
When she is ready she can come down and release the legs back to the wall. Slowly releasing the same way she came up, lowering her feet down the wall, then  rolling down from the shoulders to the hips one vertebra at at time. Releasing by taking knees into chest. Very simple; it is a graduated version of bridge pose.
From here, we can explore coming out furthur from the wall and taking the blankets away.
Straighten the legs out and lay flat on your back. Starting out with knees bent, sliding her feet toward her hips, she is going to rock all the way back and bring her legs over her head in halasana (plow pose) Immediately her hands come to her back, and then she tucks the shoulders under one at at a time to bring them closer together. All we need to do from here is inhale and raise the legs up and overhead. If you are unable to get your feet all the way down to the ground behind the head, setup some blocks behind you so that when the feet come back to they have a place to rest. You can also use a chair instead of blocks behind the head. You don’t need to bring feet all the way back, it’s just preparing for a full shoulder stand.
Plough is a great posture to prepare and loosen/lengthen the muscles in the back and shoulders. Lets slowly lower down from the shoulders to the hips and lay flat afterwards to reset the natural curvature of the spine for a few deep breaths. From here draw the knees into the chest.
You are welcome to move side to side to release the lower back and sacral area here, circling the knees in opposite directions, all different ways of releasing the back in this counter pose.
The final version of the shoulder stand would be with straight legs all the way through. Start with straight legs pressing down with arms and hands to swing legs overhead to get momentum, bringing them all the way overhead to floor or to block. Bring hands to lower back to support yourself and then slowly lifting legs up with the inhalation. First there will be more of a V shape with the legs, eventually over time the back will straighten on its own as your develop strength and flexibility.
Each of these versions of shoulder stand is beneficial in helping access Jalandhara Bandha, known as the throat lock, to open up the throat and all glands associated with the head and neck. Also very soothing and softening for the heart, providing a gentle massage as the diaphragm lifts up.
Slowly release down with the exhalation.

General Notes: 

Shoulderstand is really a graduated version of bridge pose, so it makes sense to start out with the feet propped against a wall in an inverted bridge position. The benefits are numerous: it balances several endocrine glands, including the thyroid/parathyroid and pineal gland, switches on the parasympathetic nervous system, builds strength and flexibility in the back and shoulders, and reverses the flow of lymph and blood in the circulation.

Hope this tutorial was helpful for you! Namaste 🙂

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