If I ever had to pick just one pose to do for the rest of my life, I’d have no hesitation: I’d choose shoulder stand, all the way.
Why does it make my list as my ultimate desert-island pose?
Shoulder stand soothes my nerves, improves my breathing, balances my hormonal system, boosts my immune system, and aids my digestion.
Add the variations, and shoulder stand gives me a full practice of forward bends, leg stretches, back bends, twists, abdominal strengtheners and hip openings, as well as, of course, an inversion.
But here’s the rub: it takes time and practice to build the awareness, not to mention the strength and flexibility in your shoulders, to do it properly.
Too often we let the weight fall onto the back of our necks, and, as I discovered earlier in my trek towards 90 days of shoulder stand, we pay the price.
My solution so far has been a better setup, that not only makes my shoulders take more of the weight, but also trains them in the right action.
But in the last few weeks, I’ve made a great leap forward.
Often in Iyengar yoga we use plow pose as a way to enter shoulder stand. Feet overhead, on the floor or on a support, we press down into the upper arms to lift the spine.
But how do you get the lift? When you press down and lift up, you have to lift everything – not just your spine, but your buttocks and thighs too.
A few weeks ago, I started coming into shoulder stand in plow pose supported by a chair.
Pressing my feet into the chair and staying for a minute or two made the transition more gradual, the inversion less dramatic.
One low-energy day, I pulled the chair close enough to rest my thighs.
I felt like a cartoon light bulb had switched on, right over my head.
With the thighs, or bent knees, resting on the chair, the chair takes the weight of the lower body, which lightens the shoulders.
When you press down with your arms to lift your spine, the lift is phenomenal.
There’s nothing new here. I’ve done all of these actions before. But combining supported thighs with working my arms to lift my spine, was like having super powers.
I came into shoulder stand with the base of my neck clear of the blankets, and all of the weight in my shoulders and arms.
Here’s how to try it yourself:
Set up with a chair nearby. You can always push it away later, for one-legged variations. Make sure you don’t have a sticky mat under the chair, or it will be hard to bring it closer, and to push it away.
Check your position on your setup – shoulders an inch from the edge is good – and come into plow pose.
Pull the chair in close enough that it can support your thighs. (If you’re in the range of six feet or taller, then put a bolster on the chair to achieve a healthy height for your spine.)
First, relax and get used to being inverted.
Take your arms out at shoulder height, higher than mine are in the picture, and broaden your upper back.
When you’re ready to go further, bring your strap around both elbows. Then, palms facing up, roll your inner upper arms toward the ceiling – as strong an outward rotation as you can manage.
Then rotate just your forearm and your palm toward the floor. Press your forearms down as firmly as you can, and at the same time, lift your spine away from the floor.
When you have achieved maximum lift, bend your elbows, with your palms facing your back and press down even more.
You’ll be tempted to bring your hands to your back.
Instead, pause there, and press down with your upper arms and elbows to find yet more lift in your spine.
When you finally place your hands on your back and come into shoulder stand, you’ll be surprised at how deeply you can bring your hands toward your shoulder blades.
Fijian beach photo by courtesy of Christian Haugen, via Flickr. Asana photos by Mary Balomenos.
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If you meant to get your entry in to win a copy of Priority Matrix organizing software, for iPhone or iPad, but somehow didn’t get to it, there’s still time.
(Read all about my current love affair with a time management system that lets me use my favorite organizing tool – the four quadrants – in last week’s post.)
You have until December 4 to “like” the Five-Minute Yoga Facebook page, and to leave a comment on Facebook, or on this blog.
lGive me a description of your organizational style – one word will do if you’re pressed for time – and tell me which platform you use, iPhone or iPad.
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