As my own practice has matured over the years, I’ve come to develop an increasing sensitivity to and understanding of the subtle energetic principles that lie beneath the surface of yoga. I’ve learned just how important some yoga postures are to the progression of practice, and shoulderstand is one of those. It’s no wonder that BKS Iyengar regarded it as the “Queen of Asanas.” It does so much. It opens the throat and neck, strengthens and supports the shoulders, and improves ujjayi breathing. It opens the throat chakra, relaxes the hips and pelvic floor, and improves blood flow to the brain and thyroid as well as venous return from the lower body. The yogis also used to say that as the organs sag due to the influence of gravity over the course of a lifetime, consistent practice of shoulder stand and its variations help the internal organs to fall back into their optimal positions, promoting healthy function. Shoulderstand does a LOT, which is why it has been referred to as a sarvanga sadhana, or whole body practice.
Yet, interestingly, this incredible posture can often take a back seat to its more exciting siblings the headstand, handstand, and even arm balances. And I can see the appeal! They require strength, prowess, and refined awareness. They can make us feel good, and give us a (sometimes) healthy sense of ego. And they are also important. Shoulderstand can also be an uncomfortable experience for many people with tight necks and shoulders. But there are things that shoulder stand can provide that many of these other asanas cannot. Most importantly, it’s the inversion that we can most easily learn to spend a long period of time in. Not to mention that a good shoulder stand practice strengthens ability to sustain the other inversions. It’s a win-win!
As I’ve continued to spend more time practicing this posture and its variations, I can say from experience that I can’t stress enough how valuable it is. The problem is that as the yogic texts mention, a lot of the more subtle energetic benefits come from holding the posture for upwards of 10 minutes, which can be taxing for many. It’s around that 5-7 minute mark that panic and discomfort often begin to set in, and I definitely remember working through those fears with my own teacher. In this sense, deep work in shoulder stand can be intense, emotional and spiritual. And why wouldn’t it be? The main component involved is the spine, which means that as we stretch it, we’re exploring physical and emotional holding patterns that we have stored in our nervous systems over a lifetime. It’s a posture that also demands respect and care.
I will be teaching a workshop on shoulderstand with the intention of addressing these very issues mentioned above – how to get into shoulder stand safely and comfortably, and then hold it for a longer period of time in a safe and effective way, and with a more informed understanding the subtle energetics. This workshop will be open for all levels, meaning that some of you who are exploring shoulder stand for the first or near-first time will either not be staying in it for the full length of time, or will be working with personalized modifications. Those students with long-standing practices will be guided through deeper exploration of shoulderstand and its variations. All students will be given personal attention and specific modifications based on the needs of their bodies.
We will be spending a significant amount of time doing preparatory and counter-posture work for shoulder stand, and learning how to engage and open the pelvic floor on a deeper level. This will entail slow repetitive work with asana synchronized fluidly with the breathing. The class will also entail more detailed breakdown of shoulderstand and preparation in an attempt to help students build a deeper relationship with the postures, their bodies and self-awareness. I hope you’ll join me!
Posted by: Lance Westendarp
Join Lance for Shoulderstand, an Energetic Perspective, on Saturday, February 7, 12:15-3:15pm at 8 Limbs Capitol Hill