Monday, April 22, 2013

Sarvangasana the Shoulderstand

Recently I seem to have had many practitioners approach me in regard to them not sleeping well.  This can be caused by many reasons; a change in our life may be taking place, or stress build up coming from overworking or emotional imbalance.  There are so many stimulants that surround us that it can be hard to escape them and find yourself physically and emotionally at rest.  And of course what you are putting into your body has a huge influence over the state of the mind. 
But not being able to sleep and not receiving the amount of rest you need each day, can cause a disastrous effect on both the physical and mental bodies. 
Often I am asked which postures are good to reduce insomnia and I recommend Sarvangasana; the shoulder stand.  In fact this posture has so many benefits, the word ‘Sarva’ means ‘all parts’ in Sanskrit and hence the shoulderstand is said to benefit all parts of the body.  According to Swami Sivananda there are three asanas which alone will keep the body in perfect health; Headstand, Shoulderstand and Seated Forward-bend. 
However one of the benefits of Shoulderstand is that it relieves insomnia.  There are some preparatory exercises for this posture in order to strengthen the abdominal muscles and lower back muscles.  You can practice single leg raises and double leg raises before coming up into the pose, and it is always a good idea to have done a few rounds of sun salutations to warm up the whole body before performing any of the asanas and preparatory exercises.
Here is how to come up safely into your shoulderstand.
  1. Lie flat on the mat on your back with both feet together and flexed up toward the sky.  The arms are beside your body with palms flat to the mat.
  2. Inhale and bring the legs up to a right angle, as the legs come up behind you the hips raise up off the mat.
  3. Support the back with the hands, fingers pointing in toward the spine, thumbs toward the chest.
  4. Straighten your body upward taking the hands further toward the shoulder blades so as your weight is coming onto the shoulders.
  5. Always keep your head in line with the spine within this posture, never looking side to side, and keep the chin tucked into your chest.
  6. Keep the feet together and relaxed, all the muscles in the legs relaxed so as the circulation can flow the opposite direction.
  7. Breathe deeply through the nose and allow the tummy to come out on the inhalations and bring it back in on the exhalations.
  8. Hold for as long as you are comfortable.
  9. To come out of the posture, lower the legs 45 degrees over your head, place the palms flat to the mat behind you, using them as a brake.  Slowly unroll your body down onto the mat.
  10. Rest in Savasana the relaxation pose.

Sarvangasana encourages deep breathing, which brings a real calming effect on the body and the mental state, which can help with insomnia and depression.  Turning your body upside down in this manor also allows you to look at the world from a different point of view and maybe inspire you to approach a difficult situation with more confidence and courage.  It can help to increase your sense of independence turning your direction of focus inward and helping to let go of external experience. 
Physically there are so many benefits to this posture; because of the chin pressed into the throat the thyroid gland gets a lot of stimulation and is regulated, thus regulating all other glands.  This posture brings a rich supply of blood to the thyroid thus regulating the body’s metabolism and heat production, growth and development of the muscles and bone tissue.  It controls the heart rate and thus blood pressure can be controlled.  Also the parathyroid gland receives stimulation and helps to maintain calcium levels in the blood and tissues, this reduces risk of blood clotting.  The spine gets fed abundantly whilst in this pose with all the nutrients it needs keeping it strong and elastic.  Because of the inverted position of the body blood is not permitted to stagnate at the lower extremities of the body, all the veins in the legs get a lovely rest and it can help to prevent varicose veins, the blood recirculates here.  The heart receives a gentle massage and the upper back muscles are stretched.  Shoulderstand helps to keep a youthful figure and smooth skin, so as you can see it’s a wonder pose!  Lets do more sarvangasana! 
Don’t worry if at first it seems difficult, with the build up exercises of single and double leg raises you will start to become stronger and the pose will start to become easier, breath through it and just think of all the benefits it is bringing and enjoy it.  It is just a matter of practice. 

Lets relax more and sleep better with the practice of Sarvangasana
Looking forward to seeing you all on the mat
Om Lokha Somasta Sukhino Bhavantu
May all living entities find harmony and balance
Om shanti
Mangala / Nicky

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