If you are just starting to work with height under your shoulders in shoulderstand, Salamba Sarvangasana, get ready to re-experience the pose. Like all complex postures, it is best to work in stages and consult with an experienced yoga teacher, especially if you have a history of neck problems.
If you are comfortable using four Chip Foam Blocks and/or blankets for your set-up, consider these tips to improve your practice while keeping your body safe:
- For sequencing, practice standing poses first, as they will energize your legs. You need energetic, working legs for Shoulderstand. Standing poses also open the chest and engage the shoulders, both of which will then be useful in Sarvangasana. If you regularly practice headstand, Sirsasana, always practice headstand before Shoulderstand.
- Working on poses such as supported bridge pose (Setu Bandha) on four Chip Foam Blocks will help you understand the alignment of “standing” on your shoulders, and learn the necessary dynamic of pressing the arms down to lift and open your chest.
- Make sure only the base of the neck is on the Chip Foam Blocks (or blankets), most of your neck should be free and maintain its natural curve.
- Never turn your head to the side once you’ve lifted your hips and put weight on your shoulders like this. Keep your gaze straight up to the ceiling.
- When first working on Shoulderstand with height under the shoulders, try moving your set-up, (the blocks and blankets) a few inches away from a clear wall, so that you can walk your feet up the wall to lift your body, rolling your shoulders under to open the chest. It will look like a bridge pose with your feet on the wall. Once you are stable on your shoulders, you can practice lifting one foot at a time off the wall and straight up into the air.
- In Shoulderstand you can also use a looped strap around your elbows to keep them even, rooted and to prevent them from slipping apart. Your elbows and upper arms should be parallel and shoulder width apart.
- While in Shoulderstand with your palms on your back, press your upper arms and elbows down to lift the chest more towards the chin, rather than pressing the chin towards the chest.
- Build up the duration that you hold the pose over time. There should be absolutely no strain in your neck before, during or after. Be patient with yourself, it will be well worth the investment.
Meghan Goodman is a yoga instructor and professional dance artist who can sometimes be seen dancing on the side of tall buildings. She has been teaching yoga since 2006, and is currently completing a certification in Iyengar yoga. For more information on classes, performances, to book a workshop or private session, please visit www.meghangoodman.wordpress.com