Please, NO Lifts in Shoulderstand

Requested by Shell Andrea, Yoga Teacher in Winnipeg

Placing lifts under the shoulders in Shoulderstand started with Mr. Iyengar. He thought, by adding a lift, the neck would be free and the student would lift easier, up into the position.

He was right. Placing the shoulders on a lift creates space at the back of the neck and with the elbows on the lift, the student extends, more easily, upwards.

But; Mr. Iyengar was wrong in thinking this was good for the body. In fact, using lifts compresses the cervical spine of the neck and changes the energy flow of Shoulderstand. I will tell you how.

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Half Shoulderstand

First, let me explain what happened to me. Studying with Mr. Iyengar in India, he placed me on lifts and instructed me to do  Shoulderstand and Plough every day.

Being a good student, I followed his advice and after about three years my neck hurt so I went to my doctor, who told me I had bone spurs, with irreplaceable neck damage. I stopped doing and teaching Shoulderstand and Plough.

To the rescue came several people but not before I discovered  other serious practitioners, who used lifts, were also having neck problems.

One of my rescuers was a chiropractor, in my Yoga class and another was Vanda Scarvelli, who told me, “No lifts. Keep your weight away from your neck and into your elbows.” The chiropractor agreed.

The Sivananda people never used lifts. Instead, they taught Half Shoulderstand to beginners and recommended that the Fish (Matsyendrasana) follow Shoulderstand.

I noticed the Fish was healing my neck. To this day (I’m 73 years young and practice full Shoulderstand, Plough & Fish regularly) my neck is strong and flexible!

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Sandra in Full Shoulderstand

After practicing the Half Shoulderstand for about a year, my arms and core got stronger.

And, I slowly moved towards the full position, with the weight of my body  into my elbows,  AWAY from my neck. I could lift my shoulders off the floor and easily roll my head from side to side, since MY CHEST WAS SOFT AND RELAXED.

And, my head touched the mat at the BASE OF MY SKULL or occiput. It is this pressure, on the base of the skull, that creates the relaxing Yin effects of Shoulderstand.

When the head touches the mat higher up, towards the top of the occiput, as it DOES with a lift, the CERVICAL SPINE IS COMPRESSED—between the shoulders and the skull. No wonder teachers warn, “Do NOT move your head.”   When the cervical spine is free, as it is WITHOUT a lift, the head easily moves from side to side.

Teachers also tell students, on the lift, to tuck their shoulders under. This locks the neck even more.

Without a lift, students arms extend downwards and the CERVICAL SPINE LENGTHENS! This action and the Fish HEALED my neck.

In addition, when the weight rests higher up on the skull, Shoulderstand turns into the energy of Headstand. The energy of Headstand is frontal and Yang, while Shoulderstand gives us relaxing Yin, back-brain energy.

I notice teachers, who practice Shoulderstand with a lift, are more frontal and Yang.

So there you have it. Please, NO lifts in Shoulderstand because it doesn’t matter where you are in Shoulderstand, with the weight on the base of the occiput, natural tranquillizers, just for you, are released into your body.

That’s why I nicknamed the Shoulderstand, The Tranquility Position. So find an easy place in Shoulderstand and enjoy!

For a detailed video of the Shoulderstand, Plough and Fish click here.

If you have questions about Yoga, please contact me at Sandra@sammartinoyoga.com 

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