It may be a beginner’s yoga pose, but Shoulderstand (Salamba Sarvangasana) is still a challenge. There’s something about inverting the body that’s inherently confusing and disorienting for brand new students. Help them find correct alignment and feel comfortable with this teacher’s guide to Shoulderstand.
Start out by giving your class a demo. Rising into Shoulderstand can be a little confusing for newbies; they’re often not sure how to support their back or where their legs should go. As always, a demo provides visual clarification.
During your demonstration, point out that one should never turn their head in Shoulderstand—no matter how tempting it is to take a look around the room. This is a sensitive position for the neck, and turning the head can lead to injury.
Have your student tuck in their T-shirt and then lie down on their back. Tell them to rest their arms alongside the body with palms facing down to setup for the posture.
Instruct the student to inhale as they lift their legs and use momentum to lift their hips from the floor. Then tell them to support the spine by placing their hands on the back of the torso with fingers pointing up.
At this point, many students already feel uncomfortable because of improper alignment. Tell them to walk their hands down their back, toward their shoulder blades, and bring their elbows together.
It’s OK if their legs aren’t at a 90-degree angle from the floor, but they should at least understand where the pose is going.
Here’s where you may need to give a hands-on adjustment. If your student’s elbows are splayed out to the sides and their spine is sinking toward the floor, ask if they would like help getting into the pose. Then stand near the back of their legs. Straddle their elbows with your feet and gently grasp their ankles from either side.
Now in one fell swoop, instruct them to inhale and lift. Scooch their elbows toward each other with your feet, as you guide their ankles upward. This adjustment helps to get the legs and back in one plane, making the pose more comfortable and sustainable for the student.
Once your student arrives in Shoulderstand, it’s time to help them relax into the posture. It’s a very uncomfortable position for some, so remind them to breathe and to come out of the inversion whenever they feel they’ve had enough. You might cue them to observe their belly gently expanding and contracting with each breath. Encourage them to relax their toes.
Some students may feel like they can’t breathe in Shoulderstand. This is especially true for women with large busts and those who carry extra weight, as inverting can place pressure on the lungs. Rather than aligning their hips over their shoulders, they can walk their hands closer toward their bottom and drop their feet at an angle overhead. Otherwise, Legs Up the Wall (Viparita Karani) is a great alternative pose that will still provide the benefits of inverting.