My pose for the month of June is Shoulder Stand (Sarvangasana) which is my favourite yoga pose.
This pose is considered one of the best yoga asanas. The Shoulder Stand stimulates and rejuvenates your entire body. In this exercise, you build up both power and a new structure in your back and you relax tension in well-known stress areas like the neck and the lower back. The muscles of your lower back get stronger, the chest and shoulders can move more freely and the back gets straighter. The Shoulder Stand also stimulates the thyroid gland and is good for blood circulation in the chest, shoulders, upper back and the neck. The Shoulder Stand also provides great benefit to the abdominal organs helping to relieve gas and constipation and stimulate digestion. Regular practice of this posture invigorates the mind and helps to calm the nervous system.
When performed in the morning the Shoulder Stand relieves fatigue caused by sleeping too much or too little and when practiced in the evening it helps to promote deep, restful sleep.
The pose begins by lying on the back. The legs should be straight and close together, while the arms are parallel to the torso. Next raise the legs towards the ceiling, and point the toes upward. Allow the weight of the body to rest on the neck muscles and the deltoid muscles of the shoulders. Support the back and legs into the vertical position by allowing the hands to give the lower back the balance it needs. Breathe deeply while going into the pose.
The pose should be held with the legs and spine straight. Breathe slowly and deeply while concentrating on the thyroid gland which is located in the neck. The shoulder stand has profound effects on this gland and increases its tone. Hold this pose for a couple of minutes for the best effects.
To come out of the pose curve the back and knees simultaneously and lower them to the ground. Remove the hands and place them flat on the floor. When the back is flat on the floor straighten the knees and lower the legs gently.
Immediately after Sarvangasana (Shoulder Stand), you should practise Matsyasana (Fish pose) to double the benefits.
Using blankets in Shoulder Stand
Prepare by putting down a yoga mat. Make a neat stack of three or more firm blankets. Fold each into a neat rectangle and very carefully align them with the folded edges on top of one another. Place the folded edges toward the middle of the mat with the blankets at one end of the mat. The stack should be a bit wider than your shoulders and deep enough so that they will support your upper arms when they are placed behind you in the pose.
In the pose your shoulders should be at the forward edge of the stack with your head on the floor and the neck arching down between them. The stack should be high enough so that there is no compression of the cervical vertebrae in the neck and no tightness in the neck muscles. Use as many folded blankets as necessary to relieve neck strain and tightness. Most people initially need three or four folded blankets. Over time, as your neck muscles lengthen, you will find that you can lower the height of your stack of blankets.
Some points to note:
1. One of the dangers of Shoulderstand is throat tension. You may find that you can feel your pulse very strong in your neck and that you have trouble breathing. If this is the case relax your throat and lighten your stretch.
2. Whilst this is a very beneficial pose, if you're not in the proper alignment you can strain and compress your vertebrae, particularly in the neck area. For this reason, it's important not to turn your head whilst in shoulder stand.
3. Position your arms behind you and bend them so your hands support your back as low down towards the shoulders as possible. The support from your bent arms will help you get more lift in your spine.
4.The hands can best support your back if the upper arms are parallel on the blankets or mat. However, most people find that their elbows tend to splay out when they do this. If your elbows do move out make a looped strap as wide as your shoulders and position it around your upper arms just above the elbows. You will be able to support your torso much more strongly this way.
Caution: Those who are suffering from cervical high blood pressure spondylitis or heart problem should avoid this pose. Likewise, pregnant and menstruating women should also avoid doing this pose.
Watch this video from Iyogalife on how to do the Shoulder Stand.