By Dr Raghuram Y.S. MD (Ay) & Dr Manasa, B.A.M.S
Sarvangasana means ‘the entire body poses or all limbs pose’ but by performance it translates to ‘shoulder stand pose’ since the performer stands on the shoulder support and entire body weight is on the shoulder. It is named as sarvanga because of its benefits bestowed on the entire body. It is an inversion pose and a beneficial exercise. It is often referred to as the ‘mother or queen’ of all asanas.
Sarvanga = entire body / all limbs
Asana = Posture
Read – Setu Bandhasana – Bridge Pose, How to do, Benefits, Ayurveda Details
Salamba Sarvangasana – Sarvangasan is also called as Salamba Sarvangasana. They are also used interchangeably. Salamba means supported. Since the lower back is supported with hands in the inversion it is called as Salamba Sarvangasana or ‘supported shoulder stand pose’.
Niralamba Sarvangasana – Niralamba means non-supported. In Iyengar school of Yoga there is a form of Sarvangasanam which is done without the lower back supported with the hands. This variant is called as Niralamba Sarvangasan or ‘non-supported shoulder stand pose’. The upper limbs are raised and are in line with lower limbs.
As a part of common practice when the word Sarvangasana doesn’t carry a prefix it generally means ‘supported shoulder stand’ or Salamba Sarvangasana. Both supported and unsupported shoulder stands are recent practices.
Viparita Karani – Sarvangasana is a pose similar in performance and meaning as of Viparita Karani mentioned in 15th century Hatha Yoga Pradipika. Viparita means reversed or inverted. Karani means doing or pose. So Viparita Karani means an inverted or reversed pose.
Sarvangasana and Viparita Karani in same meaning – When we say Sarvangasana, we mean it affects the whole body, because it makes (karani) the whole body reversed (reverse).
Preparation for Sarvangasana
- Sarvangasana shall be performed 4-6 hours after taking food or on empty stomach, preferably early morning. Only if your schedules do not permit in the day time then you shall do it in evening.
- Keep your bladder and bowel empty before starting the pose.
Read – Bhujangasana Cobra Pose, How to do, Benefits, Variants, Side Effects
Method of doing Sarvangasana
Positioning for the Asana
- Lie down on your back.
- Keep your feet close to each other and the arms by the side of your body.
- Breathe easily.
Performing and getting to the Sarvangasana
- Gradually bend your knees and place your feet on the floor. The feet are as close to the butts as possible.
- Now press the arms and upper body into the floor and gradually press your legs up overhead while moving your hips and legs off the floor.
- Bring the flexed knees towards the head.
- Lift the butts and hips so as to bring the hips and torso perpendicular to the floor.
- Place hands on the lower back with elbows bent, so as to support body.
- Once the body is balanced you can remove hands from the back. Now place hands straight, on sides of your body with palms facing down and touching the floor.
- When you feel secured and confident, inhale and lift feet towards the ceiling bringing your legs in line with rest of the body and perpendicular to the floor.
- Now look straight at your feet or chest. Press your shoulder blades down into the mat.
- Keep in this position for few breaths or as long as you can.
Release from the asana
- Bend the knees back towards your torso and face.
- Keeping knees bent, roll the spine onto the floor gently.
- Come back to supine position, the point of start.
- Breathe easily and relax.
Doing the pose from lying down position
- Lie down on back on the floor. Keep arms beside your body, palms facing downwards.
- Gradually lift your legs up towards the ceiling and make an angle of 90 degree with the floor / torso.
- Bring your legs behind towards your head. Now your lower back and butts are raised and perpendicular to the floor, your thighs and legs are almost parallel to the floor.
- Now support your waist with your hands at your hips
- With this support to your back gradually lift your legs up and keep them vertical.
- Now start moving your hands / palms by the sides of your body from your hips towards your shoulder blades. While doing so keep lengthening your spine, thighs and legs. Tighten your tummy and hold in this position for a while. Your hands are holding your back in support somewhere between your hips and scapulae. With practice you can hold your body close to the scapulae so as to keep your body straight.
- Watch your toes keenly. Alternatively, you can close eyes. Hold in this position for few breaths or as long as you are comfortable to do.
- When releasing from asana, bring your legs little behind, over your heads. This will help in counter-balancing your body.
- Slowly remove hands from back, place them on the floor gradually, parallel to each other with palms down.
- Gradually bring your body down. First bring your back, then butts and then the legs to the floor.
- Breathe easily and relax for a while.
Read – Types Of Pranayama – Effect on Health – Through An Ayurveda View-Point
Getting into Jalandhara Bandha while in the pose
In this pose, the legs, waist and back are in one straight line. This line makes 90 degrees with the ground. The arms up to the elbows are placed on the floor, shoulder width apart. The body from the feet to the shoulders falls in one straight line.
At this position you may enter into Jalandhara Bandha. To do this the chest is pushed forwards and chin is placed in pit of the throat, also called as jugular notch as if locking the chin in pit. This is called as Jalandhar Bandha. Now all the pressure is on the neck, shoulders and back of the head. The performer has placed his hands on the back. The legs are straight and feet relaxed. (Read more)
Philosophy and physiology of Sarvangasana
This asana is often used as a finishing pose in Ashtanga Yoga. Since it is an inversion pose it promotes blood flow to the brain and heart. At inversion the head, neck and heart are upright in a reverse way. Since the blood flow is reversed to concentrate on the head and heart, Sarvangasana keeps the brain and mind calm. By providing renewed circulation the pose also keeps the mind activated and also in an awakened state.
The pose is supposed to awaken Kundalini and opens up the throat chakra. The throat chakra is considered to be the purification center for the body. It also influences ones creativity.
In sarvangasana, arms are kept by the sides of the body, pressed against the floor, palms down. But in Salamba Sarvangasana, the torso is supported with the help of hands, arms and additional props.
- Halasana – Plough Pose
- Setu Bandha Sarvangasana – Bridge Pose
- Virasana – Warrior Pose
- Dwi pada uttanapadasana
- Viparita Karni
Follow up poses
- Matsyasana – fish pose
- Bhujangasana – snake / serpant pose
- Chakrasana – wheel pose
- Halasana – plough pose
- Vistrut Pada Halasana
- Ashwini Mudra
Partnering in the pose
Since it is a difficult pose, you can take the help of a friend or partner to do the pose if you are not able to do it all by self. Your partner may ease you doing this.
Modifications to perform the pose with ease
This pose seems to be a tough one. You can do certain modifications and adjustments so as to make and do it with ease.
Keep folded blankets under your shoulders. This provides support to your neck and body.
Variations of Sarvangasana
- Ekapada Sarvangasana is the simplest variation of Sarvangasana.
- Since it is difficult to do this asana, one should not jump into accomplishing the pose all at once at least until mastering it.
- One can use folded blanket under his neck and shoulders for support.
- If it is difficult to raise the legs straight, one can bend the knees a little while entering the position and then straighten the legs gradually. One may also take the help of the wall to raise the legs.
- One can tilt his feet over the head as in inverted pose i.e. viparita karani if there is tension in the back or neck.
Read – Tiryaka Bhujangasana Swaying Cobra Pose, Method, Benefits, Side Effects
What time should be spent in the pose while doing Sarvangasana?
It is ideal to perform the asana for short duration to start with, for 20-30 seconds to be precise. Hold in the position for few breath counts and release. After sufficient practice and after mastering the pose well one can stay in that posture for about 2-3 minutes.
Health Benefits of Sarvangasana
Below mentioned are the health benefits of Sarvangasana –
- Stretches the shoulders and neck
- Tones and strengthens the butts and legs
- Calms brain
- Relieves stress and depression
- Reduces fatigue
- Cures insomnia
- Improves digestion
- Stimulates abdominal organs
- Stimulates prostate and thyroid glands
- Beneficial for patients of sinusitis and asthma
- Good for those suffering from infertility
- Relieves symptoms of menopause
- The regeneration and development of bones gets established since the pose has a balancing effect on parathyroid glands.
- The pose is also a good remedy for hemorrhoids as it is good for anal muscles.
- The neck flexibility increases since the nerves of the neck get toned up.
- It is good for prevention and cure of varicose veins.
- Since it balances thyroid functions it helps in normalizing the body weight.
The chin lock done in the pose improves the functions of thyroid, parathyroid and pituitary glands. This happens due to increased supply of blood and oxygen as an impact of the pose. The pituitary further regulates all the remaining glands. The overall functioning of the endocrine system gets improved and boosted. There is also substantial reduction of mental and emotional stress.
Blood which has got stagnant in legs and abdomen are mobilized and drained into the heart. This enables fresh blood supply to these parts and also to the circulatory system. There is enriched blood supply to brain and sense organs. As a result their functioning also gets improved.
In this posture the diaphragm works against the gravity. This increases the lung capacity. This also helps in abdominal respiration and hence is an effective remedy for asthma. The health of the respiratory system gets improved since the toxins from the lungs are drained off due to this pose.
The asana bestows youthfulness and has anti-ageing effects. This is due to the detoxification effect this asana has over all the organs of the body so as to improve their working efficiency.
The circulatory, digestive, reproductive and nervous system functions are balanced due to the control this asana has on the balancing the endocrine system.
Blood flow to the head is enhanced. The mind is brought to tranquility. This removes stress and mental disturbances. This also is beneficial for those having headache.
Immunity of the practitioner enhances since the asana stimulates the thymus gland.
The blood circulation to the digestive system is increased and the stagnant blood from the system is drained effectively. This improves the functioning of the digestive system.
This asana harmonizes free flow of prana in the body. This in turn increases energy in the entire body.
There is fresh blood supply to pelvic region. Stagnant blood is flushed off the reproductive organs. The efficiency of reproductive organs enhances to optimum, mainly in women. The pose also strengthens the uterine ligaments. It enhances the ovarian functions and also balances the mood and calms the mind.
Read – Relationship Between Reproductive System And Doshas
Sarvangasana has all the benefits of Shirshasana i.e. head stand.
Impact on Chakras
Sarvangasana has balancing effect and healing effect on Vishuddha Chakra i.e. throat chakra and also awakens the Kundalini Chakra. By doing so it energizes the entire body.
Read – Chakra – Kundalini: Introduction, Meaning, Types, Location, Ayurveda View
Who should not do? (Contraindications and precautions for doing Sarvangasana)
Patients suffering from below mentioned conditions should avoid doing Sarvangasana –
- High blood pressure
- Heart conditions
- Brain diseases
- Neck injury
- During menstruation
- Enlarged spleen and liver
- Enlarged thyroid
- Slipped disc
- Severe headache
- Weak blood vessels in eyes
Pregnant women should avoid doing this asana.
Salamba Sarvangasana is an intermediate to advanced pose. You need to do it under the guidance and supervision of an experienced Yoga tutor. Or you should have good previous experience of doing this asana perfectly.
Since doing Sarvangasana from the floor might be difficult to start with, you may use a wall to help you get into the pose.
Read – Health Benefits Of Yoga: Mind And Body
- Do not bend your knees
- Do not move your neck while in the pose or overstrain it in the chin lock
- Don’t keep your legs completely vertical if you are at discomfort or if the position is causing trouble to you
- Don’t raise your head from the floor while in pose.
- Do not tense your legs
- Do not point the feet. When you do this, it contracts your legs and prevents blood drainage.
Impact of Sarvangasana on doshas and tissues
Impact on Doshas – Sarvangasan plays important role in balancing vata. This pose is good for thyroid and parathyroid glands and all the functions controlled by them. It also enhances lung capacity and cures asthma. Therefore it is good in balancing udana vata functions. Since it also balances pituitary functions and good for reducing stress, depression and anxiety, sarvangasana is beneficial for balancing prana vata. Since the asana helps in treating infertility and symptoms of menopause, it also balances the apana vata. Since it is beneficial for reducing the fatigue, physical, emotional and mental stress and improves overall functions of all organs in the body by balancing endocrine functions, it is beneficial for balancing the samana vata and vata axis. Since the digestive functions are improved it also has a balancing effect on samana vata.
Impact on the tissues – Since this asana stretches the muscles it is good for muscle tissues and channels carrying muscle tissue. It promotes easy blood flow in the blood vessels and is hence good for rasa tissue and also the channels carrying rasa tissue. It is also good for bone and fat tissues as seen by the benefits of the asana. Since the pose enhances youthfulness and is anti ageing, and enhances immunity, it is good for all tissues and the essence of all tissues i.e. ojus.
Click to Consult Dr Raghuram Y.S. MD (Ayu)