Getting Started – Check Your Props
Some bolsters that are old or in yoga studios that have had people sitting on the numerous times for years no longer offer the support needed to have a successful shoulderstand (one that has no pain or discomfort). So a skillful teacher that knows how to fold blankets or use appropriate bolsters is needed.
How long shoulderstand should be held? If you have been a wise student and you can do a five minute bridge with shoulder stand arms you are well on your way.
Start with a supported chair shoulderstand for three minutes, working up to five minutes every other day for several weeks. No pain, no discomfort immediately after but most importantly no pain or discomfort hours later or even the next day.
Even with a chair a skillful teacher is needed. His head on the hard floor does not create ease in the posture. You need open shoulders, open spine, active strong legs, lengthened neck, and proper support under the shoulders.
I have had students tell me they were fine then the next day they were in pain … that is when I get the call for help. Some teachers have students do a 3, 5, 7 or even 12-minute supported shoulderstand when the student has either never done a shoulderstand before or they have only done it in this teachers class every now and then.
I don’t understand this. If I asked a student to do a Warrior 2 pose supported by using a wall for three minutes or more they couldn’t do it, and they stand and use their legs all the time. Why would a teacher think a student could do these hold times in an inversion?
Danger! Injury Ahead!
This is a shoulder standish thing using blankets, either learned on own or from an unskillful teacher. This is not the yoga posture Shoulderstand. It’s an injury waiting to happen.
You’ve Reached Your Goal!
This shoulderstand is a beautiful version of the posture. Start with only short holds – what’s your hurry? Work your way into longer holds or variations from a skillful teacher. Enjoy the therapeutic benefits of this magical posture.
Don’t let a teacher force you into this posture before you and your physical body are really ready. Enjoy life, enjoy this path of yoga. See you on the mat!
Who Should – And Shouldn’t
I love shoulderstand. I wish everyone did. It has a cooling aspect to the mind and the nervous system. It has many physiological aspects and can be very therapeutic. However, it can also cause severe injury if not done properly.
Even the supported shoulderstand done with a chair and bolster is not the perfectly safe posture that some lineages want you to believe it is. You still must have the basics of certain preparatory postures in your body before moving into this healing posture.
Know Your Limits
If you have tight shoulders you must first learn how to open and relax the tightness before shoulderstand. If you have a head forward position you must correct your daily standing posture before shoulderstand. If you have weak abdominal muscles these must be strengthened because weak abdominals shows up as weakness in the back. Weakness in the legs? Inner and outer thighs must be strong and steady.
Do you have cervical neck issues? Why would you want to do this posture at all? There are similar postures that will give you the same benefits without the risk of serious injury.
Is your spine stiff? Have you lost the natural curves or do you have kyphosis, excessive lordosis, bulging or herniated discs?
This is where the basic yoga postures prepare you for other postures. Yes there is a wonderful magic in shoulderstand but only when there is a steady ease within the posture.
Preparing For Shoulderstand
How do you know when you are ready to try shoulderstand under the guidance of a skillful yoga teacher? When you can do these postures with complete ease:
- eagle arms
- full cow faced posture (arms & legs)
- bridge pose prep
- bridge pose with hands clasped
- bridge pose with shoulder stand arms
Notice the difference in the two bridge postures below:
If this is what your bridge pose looks like with or without hands clasped, you have a lot more work to do!
If this is what your bridge pose looks like with shoulder stand arms and you can hold this for five minutes you are ready. (I would like to see this posture with some blankets under the shoulders.) Get some blankets, find a skillful instructor, and start working on shoulder stand.
Next: Shoulderstand: Who Should – And Shouldn’t Part II