My first yoga teacher told me that “Shalamba Sarvangasana,” the Sanskrit name for the shoulder stand pose, is translated as “Whole Body Position.”
Well… sort of. The literal translation is “supported all-limbs pose.”
But in my view, it’s not supported enough, which is why in today’s neo-yoga position we use a couple of blocks to support the hip and get a hip-joint and hamstring lengthening position all in one. All of that minus the effort of supporting yourself.
How much better can it get, I ask you?
You need: a yoga block. Preferably two. The illustrations here feature the two yoga blocks, but if the height they impose on your hip feels excessive, step it down to one block.
Here we go, five easy steps:
1. Sit down and grab 2 blocks. (I said they were easy steps, didn’t I?)
2. Lie on your back, press on your feet to raise your hip, and slip the blocks (or block, if two feel like too much) under your hip. Please note that only the hip bone should be touching the block, not your low back and not your vertebrae.
3. Extend your legs upward. Hold the blocks. The position should feel relaxed. Whereas in a shoulder stand, you rest on your elbows, here the elbows are replaced by the blocks, and they should provide an easy resting point upon which to center the weight of your legs. If it doesn’t feel right, lower your feet, readjust the blocks, and raise the legs again.
Stay, holding loosely onto the blocks, for three long breaths.
4. Cross your left ankle atop your right thigh, just as pictured.
5. Lean your right leg in and feel the left hip joint stretch and the gentle hamstring stretch to your right leg. Keep holding the blocks in a relaxed fashion and maintain everything close to effortless. Stay for five long breaths, then repeat steps three to five with the other leg.
Benefits: A much gentler version of the shoulder stand that does not overly force your cervical vertebrae (the way a regular shoulder stand sometimes can). Hip joint and hamstring extension with added lumbar spine relaxation… all in a fairly gentle pose.
Avoid if: Your lumbar spine hurts (it could be a matter of finding the right position of the blocks so everything feels right… or your lumbar spine could in fact be negatively affected by this position). Avoid also if your neck feels tighter after the pose, or hurts. Lastly, inversions are also usually discouraged for people who have high blood pressure or with macular degeneration, but possibly this version is gentle enough to have a positive rather than negative effect. Feel it out yourself; and check with a health care professional.
Final thoughts: I just google-translated Salamba Sarvangasana, and it turns out we were all wrong. In fact, it really means “I want a tall latte, hold the milk and the sugar.”
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Editor: Cat Beekmans
Photos: Ricardo das Neves