Shoulderstand can calm and revitalize us, very deeply. But it’s also hard work, especially when we’re first learning. The pose can require months or even years of practice before the full and delicious benefits arrive. Fortunately many of these benefits also occur in shoulderstand variations.
To help you navigate your way to those benefits, we offer here an overview the poses difficulties and their remedies.
Three challenges of shoulderstand make it particularly challenging to do at first. Learn to recognize them in your own body. Then you can take on the challenges one by one, and observe your progress.
Challenge #1. Without the proper props, keeping the spine vertical requires a very deep bend in the neck.
- Always do shoulderstand with blankets under the neck and shoulders.
- Start with the variations that don’t require deeply bending the neck
- Begin to develop flexibility in your neck by doing bridge pose and supported variations of shoulderstand bridge pose that bend the neck incrementally
Challenge #2. Keeping the spine vertical requires muscle strength from the abdomen, back, arms and shoulders, and openness in the shoulders and leg flexors.
- Start with variations that use props to support the sacrum
- Belt the arms, making it easier to position them behind the back and not off to the sides.
- Observe specifically which of your muscles grow tired first, and work intelligently to make them stronger in other poses. (For example do boat pose for the abs, locust for the back, chaturanga for the arms….you’ll reap the benefits in shoulderstand.)
Challenge #3. Bending the neck deeply and tensing the muscles of the abdomen can make breathing feel more difficult. This is exacerbated by the weight of the abdominal organs, which tends to compress the lungs.
- Always do shoulderstand with 2 or 3 blankets under the neck and shoulders. Adding blankets may make breathing easier. They may also be staggered, providing a stair-stepped support for the head, with the shoulders resting on the top “stair.”
- Practice the variations. They demand less from the abdominal muscles and don’t bend the neck so deeply.
- Consciously soften the muscles of your face, jaw, throat, and tongue. You’re your throat spacious. Don’t tuck your chin into your sternum; instead, lift your sternum toward the chin.
- Try to broaden your chest and lift your trunk.
- Experiment with the position of your chin. Without looking to the side, roll your head back to lift your chin gently away from your chest. Then bring it back down. See where the breathing comes easiest.