Shoulder Stand Q&A – by Nick Potenzieri
Why is Shoulder Stand often referred to as the mother of all yoga poses?
Good question! It is called “The Mother of all yoga poses”, and even sometimes “The Queen of all poses” as it helps develop the qualities that all strong women possess: patience and emotional resilience. It is a pose that strives for ease and happiness in the whole body. Something I think we could all relate to.
What props do I need to best set up and support myself in the pose?
While this pose can be done without props, and it is great to experiment as a way to figure out ways to get on the tops of the shoulders, it is strongly suggested the pose be done with support. Typically, 3 or 4 blankets under the shoulders and upper arms to create more ease in the neck and throat, is the standard prop set up. This method also gives the practitioner the ability to stay in the pose for longer periods of time and serves as a way to calm the nervous system. It can even be done with the support of a yoga chair, which is one of my personal favorite ways to practice.
Is Shoulder Stand considered an advanced pose? If so, why?
It is a misnomer that Shoulder Stand is for advanced students and actually is quite the contrary. Shoulder Stand is THE fundamental beginner inversion (with the exception of Downward Dog) and should be practiced regularly along with all other beginner poses. Though it takes effort to establish, it is a beginner’s effort and pairs very well with any introductory or fundamental yoga practice.
What are the benefits of Shoulder Stand?
Wow, there are so many of them! It is known to benefit the endocrine system (our hormones), can create increased circulation and ease in blood flow due to the heart from the use of gravity and can help with breathlessness, asthma, and headaches. It is said that continued practice can help with the common cold, and due to the soothing effect on the nerves, it can help with hypertension, irritation, short temper, and insomnia. It can even aid in digestion and free up constipation.
What are popular variations of Shoulder Stand?
There are many variations of Shoulder Stand, and in my view, all of them are equal in popularity. These are practiced either to make the pose more approachable (as with the use of props) or to get a better lift and understanding of how to get in and out of the pose; much of which we will explore in the workshop. However, one of my favorite versions is a pose called Viparita Karani, which means “reversed action”. It is a pose that is almost like a Shoulder Stand and Savasana combined. Divine.
How would adding this pose into my daily practice help my overall yoga practice?
In a classical yoga practice, Shoulder Stand is sequenced as the final pose before Savasana. You could say it is a preparatory pose for the easy release that is to come at the end of the practice. It sets the right conditions for Savasana to be experienced. So adding this pose is a way of giving your practice a focus. The aim of the poses that come before it will inform the final posture (Shoulder Stand) and vice versa, thus giving the entire practice clarity of purpose to create stability and steadiness throughout the process.
If I have difficulty getting into Shoulder Stand, what exercises or other postures should I incorporate into my practice?
The first response to this question is that if you have difficulty getting into Shoulder Stand the answer is to practice more Shoulder Stand. Continued practice with varying approaches to the pose will, over time, make perfect. Like any problem in our lives we want to understand the issue from all angles to get the best perspective on how to solve that particular issue. However, the foundation of poses for Shoulder Stand are the fundamental standing poses, such as Warrior One and Two, Trikonasana, etc. Standing poses should be learned and performed well, to create strong, long legs that not only ground you to earth but can lift you up from the problems living this world creates. It can be very helpful to learn how to stay in a Downward Facing Dog quietly for five minutes or more.
When should I avoid this posture?
For most people the answer is not often. There are many variations that could be taken and worked with when dealing with different conditions and situations. But that said, it is advised not to practice inversions of any kind during menstruation. Also, those who suffer from high blood pressure should not do this pose until they are able to be in Halasana,
What are some common misalignments and how do I self correct them?
The most common misalignment is the ego. Most people try to catch the balance in the middle of the room before they are truly ready. The way to correct and find imbalances as well as proper form is to work with the pose patiently and daily. Also, I strongly suggest practicing with the support of a wall. This should be done for many years before a student tries to balance in the middle of the room.
At what point of my practice should I incorporate this pose, and how long should I hold this posture?
This pose should be started from day-one of practice and increase gradually, over a long period of time, until one day the pose can sustain ease for up to 30 minutes. 30 minutes! Imagine how relaxing that could be.