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Salamba Sarvangasana 1 (all the limbs of the body propped pose or “shoulder stand”)

What’s the deal with shoulder stand? It’s considered to be the mother or queen of the yoga poses (headstand being the king). Just like a “mother strives for harmony and happiness in the home, so this pose strives for the harmony and happiness of the human system”.

Think of all of the balancing and cleansing benefits of all the herbs or supplements you’ve ever heard of.  Then add in all the benefits you can associate with practicing yoga. Many of those are achieved with regular practice of shoulder stand, according to Light on Yoga.

In fact, there’s a whole page dedicated to listing the benefits of shoulder stand. Most poses get a line or maybe three, but shoulder stand gets an entire page.

So if this pose is so good for us, why does my teacher never have me practice it?

Great Question! There’s a few reasons.

1. Yoga teachers who teach with integrity have a similar idea in their head as a Doctor who has taken the Hippocratic Oath, first do no harm.

Shoulder Stand is a pretty risky pose.

All of the weight of your body is propped up over your neck and shoulders. If you aren’t strong and flexible enough to assume the pose properly, it’s going to put way to much strain on your neck.  If you aren’t up on the shoulders properly, ideally on a couple blankets to help, you can start to take the curve out of your neck and seriously injure the cervical spine.

2. New York Times
A few years ago, an article came out that went viral in the yoga community about how dangerous yoga is for your body. To well trained teachers this wasn’t anything we didn’t already know, but of the poses highlighted, shoulder stand was that was stressed as being super gnarly for you with a huge potential for serious injury.

It created a culture of fear around the pose.

Instead of people being stoked to teach and practice, the pose was getting yanked out of sequences in teacher training curriculum and being strongly cautioned agains.

3. Ain’t nobody got time for that!
I frequently quote this meme (even though its super played out) for postures that take too much time to set up for in a group class with limited props. Where I teach in Souther California, anywhere from 30-75 people will show up to take a class, in a room that comfortably fits about 20. We get packed in like sardines, and the prop supply is sufficient for about that 20 number. If I try to teach the pose, a scavenger hunt will have to ensue around the studio for any stray blankets, and I will need a spare architect to help organize everyone to fit in the room properly while preparing.

So I rarely teach it, unless I have a small class with ample room and props.

Because of all these issues, when the posture isn’t practiced regularly it must be taught as if being introduced for the first time.

If you do want to explore this pose, my recommendation would be purchasing the book Light On Yoga.  In fact, regardless if you are interested in learning this pose or not Light on Yoga is a a great resource to have handy.  Even to this day it’s still my go-to resource for asanas.  BKS Iyengar shares not only the physical and mental benefits of the different asanas but also gives clear step by step instructions.  

Additionally, working with a skilled teacher is highly recommended.  Finding a seasoned Iyengar teacher to properly guide you through this pose would ideal.  That way they can make sure that you are using the props appropriately and getting into the pose properly.