To blanket or not to blanket? That is the big question.
When it comes to shoulder stand, there are some teachers and practitioners that are absolutely adamant about using a blanket under the shoulders for support, while there are others that absolutely refuse to do so. Some teachers will use this pose as a beginner inversion for their new students, while other teachers will only let shoulder stand come into a class if the students are knowledgeable and experienced. So what’s the deal with this pose? Why can’t we all agree?
In this edition of Asana from every angle, our professionals weigh in on the basics of shoulder stand as well as the modifications to this popular inversion.
To get into shoulder stand, lay on your back and firmly place the hands and palms of the feet on the floor. Slowly roll the hips and spine up until the weight is in the shoulders. Now, press the elbows into the floor and bend the arms to take your hands to your hips. One foot at a time, kick the legs up so that the feet stack on top of the hips. Walk the elbows in closer to let the shoulders, hips, and feet all come in to one line. Keep the chin tucked to the chest and DO NOT move the head. Hold for a few breaths before using your hands to help you roll down one vertebra at a time.
The yoga instructor:
I’ll start out by saying that I do not teach this pose with the blanket for support. I’m not against props, but for me, the blanket does not assist the student here. In fact, I think it allows them to intentionally not focus on alignment. The blanket helps the students to keep weight in the shoulders instead of the neck. However, if the student can’t maintain the focus to keep the weight where it belongs, I think they should come out of the posture.
When I sequence a class, I like to include some sort of inversion towards the end. For students that are new to yoga, legs up the wall can be a great option. After that, shoulder stand should carefully be considered (with supervision and proper alignment of the spine). If I’m teaching this pose in a class, I’ll have new students stay in bridge pose. I would, however, absolutely prefer newer students take shoulder stand than to try a headstand. To me, headstand is much more difficult for a new student and also leaves more room for a neck injury.
The Orthopedic Surgeon:
The blanket under the shoulders seems like it would help keep weight out of the neck, which would be essential in this posture. However, anyone with disc problems in the back or the neck should not be doing this pose either way. It would not be good for people with any sort of neck strain. For many people with limited neck mobility, this posture would prove to be difficult and the practitioner should be hesitant to add it to their practice. Degenerative or hereditary disc problems could be aggravated and other inversions might be better (legs up the wall pose). Practice this pose with caution.
This pose can, however, be great for core strengthening. It allows the student to engage their abdominals and work on their balance.
The Physical Therapist:
From a muscular standpoint, this pose could help lengthen the posterior musculature of the cervical spine, which can improve neck posture. PT’s frequently treat patients with a forward head, which is the result of shortened posterior neck musculature and weak neck flexors. This could help with that and could help relieve tension headaches.
The blanket helps keep the neck from being in extreme neck flexion and also could make this pose more comfortable. As a PT, I would use the blanket because it ranges the patient’s neck in a more functional range of motion. People with neck injuries or those who’ve experienced whiplash should be hesitant to complete this pose. Also, people with high blood pressure or those who have heachaches because of blood pressure should be careful in this pose because you are drastically and quickly increasing the amount of blood flow to the head and heart.
Patients with swelling in the lower extremities may benefit from daily use of this pose to elevate and let gravity help push the blood flow back to the heart (the effects would be mild and dependant on how long the pose is held).
-Opening and strengthening the shoulder musculature
-Neck or disk injuries
-Limited mobility in the neck
-High blood pressure
The blanket can make this pose more comfortable and extreme neck flexion. However, it’s not absolutely necessary.
Photos – shutterstock.com
Lauren Black is a 200 RYT yoga instructor in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She teaches a form focused vinyasa/hatha practice. For the last five years since she went through her teacher training, she has tried to learn more about yoga from professionals in other paths. She also works as a copywriter for an advertising agency. http://laurenbyoga.tumblr.com | https://www.facebook.com/laurennp1 | Instagram@LaurenPBlack