Salamba Sarvangasana I registers as 2* on the scale of difficulty. While the pose is commonly referred to as Shoulderstand, the literal translation is Supported Full Body Pose since the entire body benefits from the practice of this asana.
Iyengar says, “The importance of Sarvangasana cannot be over-emphasised. It is one of the greatest boons conferred on humanity by our ancient sages. Sarvangasana is the Mother of asanas. As a mother strives for harmony and happiness in the home, so this asana strives for the harmony and happiness of the human system. It is a panacea for most common ailments… It is no over-statement to say that if a person regularly practices Sarvangasana he will feel new vigour and strength, and will be happy and confident. New life will flow into him, his mind will be at peace and he will feel the joy of life.”Â Wow. With a testimonial like that, who wouldn’t want to practice Salamba Sarvangasana?
In Supported Shoulderstand, the reversal of blood flow and the use of Jalandhara Bandha (the chin lock that occurs when the chin touches the sternum) work together to confer benefits on the entire body. These two aspects of the pose stimulate thyroid and parathyroid glands to secrete nourishing hormones and benefit practitioners suffering from respiratory issues, headaches, insomnia, hypertension and short tempers. Also, the reversal of blood flow benefits the abdominal organs, the urinary and menstrual systems, and one’s sense of vitality. Truly, when reading about Sarvangasana it seems the benefits are endless.
Iyengar places great emphasis on the importance of Jalandhara Bandha in Salamba Sarvangasana. In my teaching, I place great emphasis on the importance of protecting your cervical spine (the area around your neck) in the pose. Place a folded blanket or mat directly under your shoulders in Salamba Sarvangasana and keep your neck completely off of the blanket. This crucial adjustment allows the sensitive vertebrae of your neck to maintain their natural curve and reduces the risk of straining your neck within the pose.
Some teachers might argue that this adjustment minimizes the impact of Jalandhara Bandha. I would say that, with so many benefits to reap from this pose, why risk limiting your ability to practice Salamba Sarvangasana for a lifetime? This modification allows you to still reap the benefits of Jalandhara Bandha (your chin will still touch your sternum), but gives your neck the support it needs to practice Salamba Sarvangasana for years to come.
Support your self in the arms of the Mother of Asanas. Your neck will thank you.
Note: People with high blood pressure should steer clear of this pose, unless they precede Salamba Sarvangasana with Halasana (Plow Pose) for at least 3 minutes, per Iyengar’s advice.