Grounding through Shoulderstand: Sivananda Yoga Posture Stories
By Sri Devi (Jennie Hastings)
Over time, our experience of yoga asanas evolves beyond the physical — the postures become our teachers and companions, showing us our relationship with ourselves and the world. Enjoy this collection of stories submitted by Sivananda Yoga practitioners from around the world, sharing their in-depth connections with each asana of the Sivananda sequence. In this post, the focus is on shoulderstand.
When I first started practicing shoulderstand at the Sivananda Ashram Yoga Retreat, my shoulders and neck were tense. Like many other yoga practitioners, I was unable to stack my body over my shoulders, so I’d hold my body at a slant. But even holding the shoulderstand without the full “perfection” of the posture, I still felt its benefits positively influence and change my entire being.
The act of pressing the back of my head and shoulders into the floor grounds me. Even though most of my body is off the floor during the shoulderstand, those few body points that touch the earth give me groundedness and power. I realized that all inversions, even though we hold our bodies mostly in the air, carry these same principles — the only way we can successfully hold ourselves up is to have a firm foundation on the ground.
When I hold the shoulderstand, even in its imperfect form, I notice that all of the thoughts swirling around in my mind are pulled into the floor. It is no longer possible to carry the world on my shoulders. As my shoulders press into the ground, I can let the weight of my fears and worries slide down … to be transformed in the positive energy of the earth.
Shoulderstand is a posture I prefer to hold for some time, rather than for a fleeting moment, or with many variations. I find my comfortable pose, close my eyes, and breathe. Even though in the shoulderstand my throat is restricted in some ways, I can still take complete breaths, inhaling fully into my abdomen. I relax my feet and legs, and I feel the gentle flow of blood gently running towards my heart and my brain. I feel like a candle flickering.
I love that shoulderstand is the “queen” of the asanas. In the Sivananda Yoga Teacher Training Course we learned that it is one of the top three poses with the most benefits, along with the headstand and seated forward bend. I am grateful for shoulderstand’s benefits to the thyroid and the prevention of varicose veins. I find it easier than headstand. I have less fear of falling and still benefit from the inversion. I can stay in shoulderstand for a long time which helps me to really get the benefits.
Shoulderstand also helps me to feel emotionally supported. It is relieving to change my typical orientation in life, be upside down, and do nothing but hold the pose. It takes me out of my regular thoughts, patterns, and habits. The flow of blood to my brain energizes me and wakes me up. Physically I feel the length in the sides of my neck, the release of the muscles on the back of my head, and the massage of the muscle attachments at the base of my skull. I feel a lengthening when my shoulders are pressed down and away from my ears.
Right after shoulderstand in the Sivananda sequence comes plow and fish, which enhance the benefits of the shoulderstand and add new benefits of their own. By the end of this series I feel completely supported … carried by a wave of bliss.
Every week from January 1 – March 26, 2018, we will be sharing a new story — You can access all of the current ones here.