Benefits of Inversions, Modified Shoulder Stand

posted in: asana, Elder Yoga, yoga | 4

When the elder yogini grinned up at me from her head on a blanket on the floor – her legs up in the air of the studio – her backside securely perched on the folding chair – I could see that she was in the “correct” position and the correct position felt good!!!

If you are unfamiliar with the pose, check out  Witold Fitz-Simon’s article on supported shoulderstand.

 

Supported shoulderstand on Chair (ckg photo)

 

Why do I like to be upside down? my haloed student asked, hoping, I think, that I’d have an answer.

When I told her that I loved an inversion too, she said that ever since she was a kid, she’d always enjoyed being upside down. She’s a young seventy-something.

Looking at her sparkling blue eyes, and the way that her wavy alabaster curls spread about her head like a halo on the blanket, I wondered why reversing the flow of gravity pulling our physical self to the earth should give such an emotional boost. Sure, yogis have said since ancient times “You are only as young as your spine” ….and the spine strengthens whenever our feet lift and our head drops.

We know the health benefits of inversions:

  • venous blood flow returns to the heart with ease
  • nerves are soothed and headaches relieved
  • thyroid and parathyroid glands are bathed in blood and brought into healthful condition (yogic wisdom)
  • with repeated and regular practice, hypertension, and unstable emotions are regulated

B.K.S.Iyengar calls Salamba Sarvangasana the “Queen of Poses” – Headstand is the “King of Poses.” Though he doesn’t discuss the supported or chair version of the pose in his classic text, Light on Yoga, he does discuss at length the benefits of standing upon one’s shoulders:

The importance of sarvangasana cannot be over-emphasized. 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.  There are several endocrine organs or ductless glands in the human system which bathe in blood, absorb the nutrients from the blood and secrete hormones for the proper functioning of a balanced and well developed body and brain.”

Though I am taking a break from inversions until my neck heals from the injury I incurred in November, I really miss supported shoulderstand as it was a regular part of my daily practice. I found it was indispensable for alleviating the pain of varicose veins. It also helped on a psychological level, promoting seeing the world from a different perspective. This benefit is not often emphasized, but I find very important in my own practice, teaching and life.

 

 

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4 Responses

  1. My father as well as my husband do the headfirst pose remarkably well…I can only do when someone helps me lift my leg up. We call this “sirasasanam” – “Siras” + “Asanam” –> head + posture. 🙂

    I hope i get to do it without any support though ..:)

    DK’s last blog post..Festival – Pongal Recipes

  2. DK, I think you are talking about what we call sirsasana or head balance – a very different pose. Checkout http://laughingyogini.com/2008/09/practicing-gratitude/
    I’ve posted two videos showing different approaches to head balance.
    And yes, most of the time I can swing up on my own, but sometimes I need help – an assist to press the first leg to the wall.

    In this modified shoulderstand, unless there is FEAR – and there often is – pretty much all students can lay back off the chair onto blankets or bolster. There is no swinging up.

    Another way to manage getting into sarvangasana, if you don’t like the chair or couch method, is to start at the wall. I’ll work on a future post showing that. I still do it that way rather than swinging my legs up and over my head.

    Hope this helps. finding some way into the inversions, if you are healthy, can be a really beneficial aspect of a yoga practice. BUT, if they are still uncomfortable for you, don’t worry about it.

    Enlightenment is within you, NOT in a pose.

  3. Great! Thank you!
    I always wanted to write in my site something like that. Can I take part of your post to my blog?
    Of course, I will add backlink?

    Sincerely, Timur I. Alhimenkov

  4. Your site displays incorrectly in Mozilla, but content excellent! Thanks for your wise words =)

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