Shoulder Stand is a favourite asana for many people and may be included in one’s daily practice as a “reward” for all the hard work done earlier in the vinyasa…
In this asana, the body is inverted and supported by the shoulders and arms. All that is required is the rotation of the scapulae (shoulder blades) over the head of the humerus (upper arm bone) to allow the torso to move between the arms. That’s basically it. Yet, anyone who tries to do Sarvangasana knows that it just does not work that way. There are muscles, tendons, ligaments and fascia that have shortened and tightened around the shoulder joints and in the rest of the body. There are also injuries, misalignments and emotional blocks that prevent this simple movement. We need to restore the harmony.
So, the challenge of asana is to work with these obstacles as they are presented, in order to express the body/mind essence of Sarvangasana. How one approaches the removal of the obstacles in order to gain freedom of movement, can demonstrate how an individual approaches challenges present in their daily living.
Shoulder Stand, for many, is also seen as an easy place “to hang out”, a place to relax and regard life in general, i.e. “what are the kids doing at home?”; “should I invest on the stock market?”; “what’s for dinner?” And, with this “monkey mind”, we may execute what looks like a decent pose, yet it will obviously not penetrate the blocks and what can and needs to change.
The lower abdomen is considered the “seat of sickness”. Above the lower abdomen lies agni (fire) which burns bodily, emotional and spiritual impurities. In our standing, upright position, the fire is above and the impurities below. When one is inverted, this is reversed and gravity automatically moves this “dirt” downwards towards the fire. Correct, mindful breathing is instrumental in this reversal process, because it can burn impurities and remove them from the body more effectively.
Because of the position of the neck and head, the gaze is directed towards the heart. Sarvangasana is referred to as the “mother of asanas”. As a mother nurtures, Sarvangasana nurtures by allowing one to look into the heart and encourages the heart centre to open. This opening reminds one to approach the challenges, the edges of pain and fear, to see one’s limitations with love and compassion, and to understand that by facing oneself, the edges soften and move, both physically and mentally.
The neck is the lowest part of the torso. Much of the time it acts as a filter for the abundant flow of energy between the mind and the body. This causes it to be extremely subject to tension and stiffness. (i.e.). “Pains in the neck” are self created and can arise through the lack of flexibility in seeing other points of view. The position of the head and neck in this posture is a symbol for the surrender of our will. As the physical pressure is released from this neck lock, the body comes back into balance. It is said that as the ego lets go of its weight that, in its self-importance, it has imagined, the burden is removed.
Sarvangasana is associated with the fifth chakra, Visuddha, the Throat Chakra and symbol of purification. The throat chakra is the centre of sound, vibration and self-expression. It is the realm of consciousness that controls, creates, transmits and receives communication, both within ourselves and between each other. It is here that the synthesising of old ideas into something new takes place.
As much pleasure as this asana brings, one cannot stand forever one one’s shoulders. As you come down from Salamba Sarvangasana, Swami Rhada suggests the focus should be “what burdens can I put down”; “what burdens are no longer mine?”, so that you may walk lighter on the path of self-knowledge and self development.
By Arleen Francois