Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Yoga Tip Tuesdays: the 'other' shoulderstand

When you think of shoulderstand, you probably think of the popular images of someone upside down with their legs ramrod-straight in the air, their body folded nearly in half at the neck, their chin pressed to their chest. Yet let's face it - the modern, "gymnastic" version of shoulderstand that we are used to seeing is simply not practical - or safe - for everyone. It requires a high degree of backwards flexibility of the shoulders, for starters. It also requires nearly 90 degrees of forward flexion at the cervical spine and places a lot of the body's weight on the delicate vertebrae at the back of the neck. Not to mention that if you are a woman with anything over a C-cup, you may feel like you're at risk of smothering yourself!

Thankfully, there is an alternative variation of shoulderstand that gives you exactly the same benefits as the "gymnastic" shoulderstand. In sanskrit this pose is often referred to as "viparita karani asana." It's basically a slightly modified version of shoulderstand, where instead of trying to get your body straight up and down, you allow your body to settle in a 'pike' pose, with a comfortable angle between the torso and legs. This allows you to take more of the weight of the body in the hands, elbows and arms, which decreases the weight and pressure on the cervical spine. It also creates more 'breathing' space between the chin and the torso - ideal for bodybuilders with tight pecs and shoulders and for busty women. The pose has a beautiful, mudra-like feel to it and allows you to breathe deeply into the belly. Drishti is either straight up, or at the belly if you can do this while still keeping the chin lifted high.

I can not say enough how much I love and prefer this pose!! Personally, I now only practice this asana instead of shoulderstand and I always teach it in classes (I call the two versions "classical" shoulderstand and "gymnastic" shoulderstand) - yet it took me years to come across it simply because it isn't taught in our modern asana classes. So without further ado, here you have it: viparita karani asana.

(NB: The usual counter-indications for this pose apply: you shouldn't be practicing inversions if you have untreated high blood pressure, angina, glaucoma, or osteoporosis of the spine, wrists or shoulders.)

Readers, what poses would you like to see modifications for on the blog??


  1. Thanks Bree for clearly demonstrating these modifications. I have severe disc degeneration in my neck and this variation allows the neck to be supported and extended without compression. Also unlike plow pose I can breathe in this position :)

    1. You're welcome! This is SUCH a wonderful pose, especially if you have a delicate neck. There is a lot of freedom in saying "no, that pose is not for me - I'm doing this one and it's awesome!" :)

  2. Thank you so much for this variation. I have been searching for something that feels better in that asana. Wonderful website. Thank you for sharing!