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The study of an inversion, SARVĀṄGĀSANA सर्वाङ्गासन

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Sarvāṅgāsana सर्वाङ्गासन

GENERAL INFORMATION

SHOULDER STAND

Etymology:
Sarvā: the whole
Aṅga: body
Sarvāṅgāsana:
the whole body

Physiological effects:

Sarvāṅgāsana stimulates the thyroid, and balances out the glandular, nervous, digestive and circulatory systems. As blood floods to the brain, this pose refreshes the brain. It is an amazing cure against constipation, hemorrhoids, it supports venous return and relieves heavy legs. It helps reaching optimal body weight and gives a nice silhouette. It strengthens the back of the neck (if correctly performed ). It helps healing diabetes, and leukorrhea. It tones the abdomen, sexual organs, and spine. It has a stimulating effect in the morning, and a calming effect in the evening. It is very powerful in improving mental faculties (memory, concentration).

Spiritual effects :

When regularly performed for long duration, it activates the skull chakras. It develops the "very" ancient memory and the superior consciousness faculties. Due to the inversion of the body, consciousness flows and is not wasted through our sense organs as it usually is. Sarvāṅgāsana is among the three "royal" poses of Haṭhayoga हठयोग.

Psychological effects :

As inverting the body is quite unusual, this pose requires a good balance. Seeing the world upside down may cause some worry at first. But once you have dealt with it, it will lead you to more self-confidence and to the necessity to let go in a seemingly uncomfortable situation. This pose involves bending willpower. Taking this unusual body position can lead us to consider this new discomfort and the concept of impermanence in our daily security. This pose requires more mental alertness from us, but if it is mastered, it also trains us for "the extra-ordinary". This capacity, which is revealed through the pose, can become a capacity to adapt in everyday life. This pose is also about becoming free from the unstable nature of air and making it more stable through a state of balance. This will make the body much lighter and the mind more flexible. Shoulders and trapezius muscles are common areas of tension. Our trapezius muscles are very often drawn up and tense. The weight of the pose on them can make us become aware that tension is our constant tendency. Paradoxically, the pose requires to relax them to better settle into a pleasant stability. This is one of the goals of this Āsana.

Going into the pose:   Props :

  • Neatly stack your blankets on your mat.
  • One to two blankets tidily folded twice.
  • Lying on your back, place your shoulders on the edge of the blanket, with your head on the floor, allowing the back of your neck to be free (one should be able to insert one finger between the floor and the back of your neck).
  • With your legs joined, on an inhale, bend your knees and lift up the pelvis.
  • Walk your hands toward your shoulders, drawing your elbows close together, stretch your legs with no tension together toward the ceiling.
  • Free the back of your neck.
  • Rest your chin against your throat.
  • The more advanced practitioners will go up in the pose with stretched legs.
  • Never turn your head to the side once you are in position.

     

    How to use them :

  • If you feel the long muscles of the neck are overstretched, add a blanket.
  • Place your shoulders on the rounded and neat edge of your blanket, with the top of your shoulders resting 1 cm from the edge, as the body moves backward when lifting it up. This way, your shoulders will stay on the blanket and you will keep the back of your neck free.
  • In case of hot weather, put a towel on top of your blanket.
  • WORK IN THE POSE

    Breathing: abdominal breathing
    Bandha बन्ध: no
    Mudrā मुद्रा: no
    Point of concentration: Viśuddha विशुद्ध Cakra चक्र (spiritual goal),
    thyroid and breath (physical goal)
    Bīja Mantra बीजमन्त्र : haṃ हं (mental repetition)
    Duration: beginners: start with a few seconds and increase each day

     
     
     
     
     
     
     
    Contraindication:

    This pose should not be done in the following cases:

  • strong migraine,
  • high blood pressure,
  • heart problems,
  • hyperthyroidism, respiratory tract infection,
  • during periods,
  • hiatal hernia,
  • stomach problems,
  • aerophagia.


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    Don’ts :

     


    "Above the navel and below the palate respectively, are the Surya and the Chandra. The exercise, called the Viparita Karani, is learnt from the guru’s instructions."
    HaṭhaYoga Pradīpikā हठयोगप्रदीपिका chapter 3 verse 78
    .

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    Sarvāṅgāsana

    ANATOMICAL ANALYSIS

     

    This balance pose requires good muscle tone of mainly postural ("brick") muscles (deep back muscles, buttocks muscles, abdominal muscles...) to be able to withstand the inversion of gravity.

     

    Problems inherent to this pose

    1- This pose is on the shoulders and not on the back of the neck
    2- It involves finding the center of gravity
    3- It requires strength in arms and wrists
    4- It will be more difficult for overweight people

    Joint reflection Jaya and Claire-Lise Cotté-Garneau

    The osteopath’s point of view

     

    The weight of Sarvāṅgāsana lays on the C7-D1 hinge: risk of reversed neck curve

     

     

     

     

    A spasm of the anterior neck muscles (long muscle of the neck, deep muscles) can push C3 and other vertebrae backward and there is no physiological lordosis any more.

     

     

     

     

     

     

    The ideal support

     

    Indeed, if Sarvāṅgāsana is regularly held with the back of the neck fully extended and the body weight laying more on the cervical vertebrae than on the shoulders and the back, there will soon be a risk of cervical problems, and of reversed neck curve on the medium term. Solution brought by BKS Iyengar : use of a folded blanket under the shoulders to free the cervical vertebrae.

     

    The problem of kidney or back pain in the pose

    This balance pose requires to find verticality by using tone back and abdominal muscles. Holding this pose sometimes causes lumbar pain. People who have kidney pain in this pose, can be reassured that most of the time, they do not have vertebral disk problems (unless there is an already known pathology), but rather visceral or ligament problems, either empty organs (entrails, intestines, stomach), or solid organs (kidneys, liver, and so on).

    As a matter of fact, the intervertebral disk is at risk only when a person is standing and makes the effort to bend forward (lumbar flexion). In shoulder stand, the only weight is the weight of the legs, though the legs become lighter if they are well aligned on the body’s line of gravity. Therefore, this pose causes no intervertebral disk problem. On the contrary, inverting the body relieves potential tension in internal ligaments. If we have lumbar pain in the pose, most of the time, this pain is in fact projected visceral pain. Organs in the belly are bound together or to internal walls by ligaments. Due to a sedentary lifestyle, it often happens that these ligaments fibrose and inverting the body stretches the fibrosis. This is positive as it has corrective effects. Nevertheless, there may be some pain occurring as these ligaments are innervated. Thus, this pose is very beneficial to support the visceral function (constipation, protruding belly, "organ descent", relief of the venous return...).

     

    How to maintain a straight pose

     

    The elbows should be drawn shoulder-width together. In other words, the shoulders should be open. The practitioner can exercise himself by putting a rope inside his elbows and having it tightened shoulder-width. Do not keep the rope for too long, otherwise you may have blood circulation problems (cf. Props). Hands should firmly hold the sides of the torso and be placed at the lower tips of the shoulder blades, and not at the waist (otherwise, we go into half shoulder stand (cf. Don’ts) or the variation of another inverted pose (cf. viparita karani).

    Benefits of Sarvangasana. People who have a slouch posture resulting in a saggy belly and a closed rib cage have trouble maintaining their organs in place around the diaphragm and are prone to saggy belly and breathing difficulties. Thanks to this pose which helps restoring physiological pressures, they find relief from their weight by strengthening the diaphragm.

     

    The overweight problem

     

    One of the benefits of this pose is that it helps reaching optimal body weight if practiced assiduously. So don’t get discouraged. In case of weak abdominal muscles, weight can be indeed problematic when going into the pose. Namely, some people find it impossible to lift themselves up into the pose. This can also happen to much thinner people with weak muscles. If this is the case, use a wall as a support when you go up (cf. Props and How to use them).

    Pregnant women. This pose can be performed until the third month of pregnancy without any problems by women with little practice. The decision whether to continue practicing it will depend upon the size of the belly (which may block the diaphragm and impede breathing), but most importantly on your agility. If you are an advanced practitioner, you can go on practicing this pose as long as you feel at ease.

    Laurence at eight months of pregnancy

     

    Our friend Claire-Lise Cotté-Garneau, osteopath in Saint-Paul - Réunion Island

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               Sarvāṅgāsana           

    SYMBOLISM

     

    "Sarvāṅgāsana is the mother of all Āsana"
    BKS Iyengar

     

    Harmony :

    Redirecting energies toward upper chakras

     

    Viśuddha cakra

    Viśuddha cakra can be activated through Jālandharabandha जालन्धरबन्ध, Viparītakaraṇī विपरीतकरणी, Sarvāṅgāsana, and prāṇāyāma प्राणायाम techniques.

    Viśuddha represents the part of consciousness related to higher balance.

    As a symbol of purity, it is the purification center of psychosomatic functions.

     

    Sarvāṅgāsana brings harmony and joy in the body. It is a cure-all for most common disorders. This asana expresses perfect body balance, peace of mind, and the spirituality of realizing the soul in the body.

    When the navel area is above and the palate below, the "sun" is above and the moon below. The moon not only represents bindu बिंदु, but also consciousness. The Sun represents maṇipura cakra मणिपुर चक्र, but also PRÂNA in the body. Consciousness and Prâna thus flow faster to the brain.

    Usually, the gravitational force naturally draws all body fluids toward the lower part of the body. By inverting the body, all fluids flow back to the head. This pose enables to redirect the energies of lower chakras toward upper chakras.

     

    Energetics:

    In Vēdānta Yoga योग वेदांत, the 5 prāṇa प्राण play an important role in poses. Sarvāṅgāsana activates these five prânas also called "vital airs", and, this way, controls all the organs of action.

    Inversion reverses the polarity of the electromagnetic field created within the upright body.

    The energy field generated by the electrical activity of the brain is integrated with the geomagnetic field of the earth’s surface. This has a revitalizing influence upon the human aura.

     

    Knowledge:

    The tradition maintains that the benefit achieved through the practice of Āsana is knowledge of the three dimensions. These three dimensions can first be understood through the spatial understanding of the body’s geometry. That is to say, these dimensions can be physical, mental and spiritual, or gross, subtle and causal.

    In any case, Āsana have an effect on kōśa कोश. As Āsana are mainly a physical experience sthūla Śarīra स्थूल शरीर, they will affect the physical sheath, but also the pranic and mental sheaths.

    Jaya Yogācārya {©Centre Jaya de Yoga Vēdānta Réunion Island} translated by Stephanie Bosco

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