Shoulderstand (Salamba Sarvangasana)

Shoulderstand With a Blanket
Shoulderstand With a Blanket. Debra McClinton/Taxi/Getty Images

Type of pose: Inversion

Benefits: Stretches the shoulders and neck

Shoulderstand has been called the queen of asanas, a view affirmed by B.K.S. Iyengar in Light on Yoga. It's often the first inversion that yoga beginners tackle because it's much more stable than headstand or handstand. However, there are serious risks associated with shoulderstand so it's important to set up the pose correctly for the safest possible experience.

Although there are other ways to enter shoulderstand, coming from plow pose offers the best way for beginners to get their shoulders and back into alignment. Therefore, if you can't do plow, do not attempt shoulderstand. 

The Iyengar version of the pose encourages the use of one or two folded blankets under the shoulders. The positioning of the blankets is important. They should be lined up with the end of your mat. When you come into the pose, your shoulders and upper back should be on the blanket but your head and neck should be off it. The head is on the bare floor so that it can slide if necessary and the blankets give your neck the lift it needs to maintain its natural curve instead of being flattened to the floor.

The alignment of your legs and torso when you are in the full pose is also key. Very often, students do shoulderstand with their butts sticking out and their feet over their foreheads instead of over their hips.

This throws the whole pose off. To avoid this problem, tuck your shoulder blades firmly onto your back and make sure your heels stay over your hips.

Finally, people with glaucoma should not practice this pose.


1. Before coming into the pose, set up your blankets as described above. Start with a stack of two folded blankets.

Come into plow pose with your back and shoulders on the blankets and your head on the floor.

2. From plow pose, bend your elbows and bring your hands onto your back with your fingertips facing upward. The hands should come about mid-back.

3. Keep your elbows shoulders-width apart. Do not allow them to splay out to either side.

4. Lift your feet up off the floor toward the ceiling, either one at a time or together if the abdominals are strong enough.

5. Once you raise the legs, don't turn your head to the side to look around the room, since you can injure your neck. Keep your gaze upwards and your neck straight.

6. Lift up through the balls of your feet.

7. Move your hips toward the front of the room and your feet toward the back of the room to straighten the body. The correct alignment is with the hips over the shoulders and feet over the hips. Ask your teacher or a friend to help you determine if your legs are perpendicular to the floor.

8. Stay in the pose for up to ten breaths.

9. To come out, bring your feet back over your head to come through plow pose.

10. Roll out from plow slowly.

Beginners' Tips:

1. If you elbows want to move out towards the sides of your mat, try using a looped strap around the upper arms to keep them shoulders-width apart. Measure the length of the strap ahead of time against your shoulders and slide it onto your upper arms before you enter plow pose.

2. If you don't feel ready for shoulderstand, try this variation instead. From supported bridge with a block under the sacrum, lift your legs straight up toward the ceiling. Legs-up-the-wall is another good option if you want to avoid inversions during your period

Advanced Tips:

1. There are many variations on the position of the legs this pose, including bringing them legs into a wide "V" shape, or into baddha konasana or lotus position.

2. When coming out of the pose, move into karnapidasana

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