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Success! 94 days of shoulder stand, and counting

The ladder of success was not crowded at the top; did I set it against the wrong building?

In fact, I never expected a crowd, and I like it here at the top of my ladder.

I did it. I met my commitment to do shoulder stand every day for 90 days.

Day one wasn’t glorious. Neither was day 90. There were days when my entire practice was seven minutes draped over a chair.
However, mostly it’s been good. I stay longer and do more variations than when I started my 90 days.
Last Friday I spent 22 minutes in happy clarity, and even began to nibble at the edges of “side embryo pose” (Parsva Pindasana in Sarvangasana).

I’m still digesting everything I learned in keeping this promise to myself. But I’m clear on at least five things:

1. Shoulder stand really is a pose for the entire body – just like the Sanskrit name, Sarvangasana, says. Sarva means all, anga means limbs, which makes it the “all limbs,” or “entire body” pose.
Yes, the work in the shoulders is the foundation.
But apart from the more subtle benefits of hormone balancing and immune system boosting, in the past three months I’ve noticed increased core strength, more strength in my upper arms and more space in my chest.
The surprise bonus: increased power in Chaturanga Dandasana, the yoga pushup.
I’m assuming that my new core strength comes from the time I spend in the sideways variations (Parsva Sarvangasana). No matter where it comes from, it feels like a gift.

2. Ninety days is enough time to create a habit, by which I mean a behavior so entrenched that it feels uncomfortable if I don’t do it.
I’ve been told that 21 days will do the trick, and I suspect that might be true for a bad habit.
But to make something stick that is worthwhile but not easy, I need more time.
Now I have a good habit. Today is day 94, and I’m not planning to stop.

3. Daily practice is a spotlight.
After a rocky start 25 years ago as a beginner, when shoulder stand seemed to squeeze the breath out of my chest, I came to love the pose.
I’ve been happy in my shoulder stand for at least 10 years.
Apparently it looked pretty good from the outside too. In all of the workshops and classes I’ve taken, no one has done more than adjust for the unevenness in my right and left shoulders – the right one is stiffer and harder to place.
But within three weeks of daily practice, the truth popped out: I wasn’t working my outer shoulders, so I was taking too much weight into my neck.
It took a new setup, and a new preparation in plow pose to move me closer to doing the right actions in the pose.

4. Shoulder stand translates directly into seated pranayama.
Yes, it teaches the chin lock (Jalandhara Bandha). But as I found while sitting at my outward facing corner on Saturday morning, the day after the best shoulder stand ever, there’s much more to it than that.
All of the actions you take to keep your chest lifted and expanded for breathing live in shoulder stand: the upper arms roll out and press back; the elbows draw down; the bottom edges of the shoulder blades pull toward the spine from the outer edges; the shoulder blades move down the back.
All you have to do is imagine yourself rotated in space, and sitting turns into shoulder stand – especially so if you’re doing lotus variations.

BKS Iyengar in Parsva Pindasana in Sarvangasana

BKS Iyengar in Parsva Pindasana in Sarvangasana: This could take a long time to achieve, given where I'm starting from.

5. Shoulder stand is a bit like outer space. No matter how far you go, you won’t reach the end of it.
The truth is that I chose it in September because it was the only inverted pose I could see myself doing every day.
After 94 days, I’m fascinated by it.
I would like to perfect all of the variations. Eventually I would like to learn to work flat on the floor.
Even then I don’t see an end to exploration. How could there be an end?

This is the all-limbs, whole-body pose, and there’s no end to bringing intelligence into the body.

As impossible as it might seem, January is on its way.
Is there a yoga challenge that you would take on in the new year? And what do you think would be a help with that?

Photo by Alosh Bennett, via Flickr.

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Five-minute yoga challenge: hang your head to free your neck


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Judy Russell PT December 8, 2011, 5:48 pm

    Congratulations! Ninety days and counting of shoulder stand is something to crow about. Because of my interest in visceral manipulation, almost any variation of an inversion will be of benefit to the organs and offer relief to the spine off which our organs hang. So hang in there! Oooooh. Judy

    • Eve December 8, 2011, 5:54 pm

      Judy, How lovely to hear from you! Does this mean you’re back? And I can come see you?
      Interesting that inversions are a relief to the spine. I do know that every time I come down from a shoulder stand, I feel refreshed and rested. That’s one effect that just never fails.

  • Sharmeen Jacobs December 8, 2011, 5:48 pm

    Eve, inspired by your shoulder stand commitment, I made a commitment last month to do 30 days of 30 minutes meditation followed by 30 minutes of pranayama. For some reason I have had a resistance to establishing a regular pranayama practice. 28 days later (I actually had to ckeck my calendar to see what day I was on!) I feel this has now become an integral part of my home practice and I can’t see myself stopping or better still resisting it! Thank you!

    • Eve December 8, 2011, 5:56 pm

      Good for you! I’ve had pranayama resistance for a long time, so I know what you’re talking about.
      Lately breath work has been adding itself to my morning, and while I haven’t felt certain enough to make a daily commitment, I welcome it every time it appears.