How to Do Shoulderstand: Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

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Also Known As: Supported Shoulderstand

Targets: Shoulders and neck

Equipment Needed: Folded blankets, yoga mat

Level: Intermediate

Shoulderstand has been called the 'queen of asanas' and is often the first inversion that yogis tackle because it's more stable than Headstand or Handstand poses. It's part of the Ashtanga yoga closing sequence, so you typically find it at the end of yoga classes.

How to Do Shoulderstand (Salamba Sarvangasana)

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

There are serious risks associated with doing Shoulderstand, so it's important to set up the pose correctly for the safest possible experience. Although there are other ways to enter it, coming from Plow pose (Halasana) offers the best way to get your shoulders and back into alignment.

The Iyengar version of the pose encourages the use of one or two folded blankets under the shoulders. The positioning of the blankets is important, and they should be lined up with the end of your mat.

When you come into the pose, your shoulders and upper back are on the blanket while your head and neck are off it. The head is on the bare floor so it can slide if necessary, while the blankets give your neck the lift needed to maintain its natural curve.

  1. Lay down on your yoga mat, aligning your body with the blankets as suggested above. With legs bent and feet on the floor (as if setting up for Bridge pose), begin to walk your shoulders underneath your upper back, feeling the chest rise gently.
  2. Lift your hips off the mat coming into Bridge pose and extend your arms onto the ground, palms facing down as if your hands could touch your heels.
  3. Press firmly into the palms, using them as leverage to lift onto the balls of the feet and extend one leg up.
  4. Bend at the elbows, place your hands on your low back (creating a shelf), then extend the next leg up. Once you raise the legs, don't turn your head to the side to look around the room as this can injure your neck. Instead, keep your gaze upward and your neck straight.
  5. Lift up through the balls of your feet, walking your hands further up the back for more stability. Feel the chest reaching toward the chin to support opening the upper back.
  6. Move your hips toward the front of the room and your feet toward the back of the room to straighten the body. This helps you get into the correct alignment, which is the hips over the shoulders and feet over the hips. (If you don't use blankets or other supports, do not bring your body fully vertical.)
  7. Stay in the pose for up to 10 breaths.
  8. Come out of Shoulderstand by bringing your feet back over your head to come through Plow pose, rolling out from Plow slowly.

Fish pose (Matsyasana) is considered a counterpart pose and is often done after Shoulderstand to relieve any neck tension. Another option when coming out of this pose is to move into Ear Pressure pose (Karnapidasana).

Benefits of Shoulderstand

Shoulderstand helps stretch the muscles in your shoulders and neck. This is beneficial if you spend a lot of time slumped forward in front of a computer, regularly carry a heavy shoulder bag, or tend to feel stress in the neck and shoulder area.

As an inversion asana, Shoulderstand sends blood from the legs and pelvis back to the heart and lungs to become freshly oxygenated, which may increase energy. Research involving yoga practices that include this pose has also found that it can help to decrease low back pain.

Like many yoga poses, practicing Shoulderstand can be a calming and relaxing experience. Taking the time to regularly relax can help reduce blood pressure, lessen feelings of anxiety, ease pain, and even help you sleep better.

Other Variations of Shoulderstand

You can modify the Shoulderstand pose in a few different ways to better suit your level of fitness and needs.

Looped Strap for Proper Form

If your elbows want to move toward the sides of the mat, using a looped strap around your upper arms can help keep them shoulder-width apart. Measure the length of the strap ahead of time and slide it onto your upper arms before entering Plow pose.

Reduced Leg Angle

If you find it difficult to lift your legs so they are perpendicular to the floor, only lift them part of the way. Even taking them to a 45-degree angle can help provide a stretch to your neck and shoulder area.

Different Leg Positions

There are many potential variations in the position of the legs during this pose. This includes bringing the legs into a wide "V" shape, such as when in Cobbler's pose (Baddha Konasana), or placing them in a more cross-legged position, like in Lotus pose.

Changing your leg position enables you to provide variety to the Shoulderstand pose while still obtaining its benefits.

Easier Poses for Beginners

If you don't feel ready for Shoulderstand, try Supported Bridge with a block under the sacrum, then lift your legs straight up toward the ceiling. Legs-up-the-Wall Pose is another good option, especially if you want to avoid inversions during your period

Common Mistakes

Avoiding these mistakes when doing Shoulderstand pose can help prevent injury while maximizing its effectiveness.

Improper Position

Very often, students do Shoulderstand with their butts sticking out and feet over their foreheads instead of over their hips. This throws the whole pose off. To avoid this issue, tuck your shoulder blades firmly into your back and make sure your heels stay over your hips.

Not Keeping Your Core Engaged

If you don't keep your core engaged during this pose, you may find it difficult to lift your hips fully, which can also make it harder to walk your hands up your back. Consciously engage your core throughout the entire movement.

Turning Your Head

Proper Shoulderstand form involves keeping your gaze straight ahead. If you turn your head, such as to look at others or watch the instructor, you risk injuring your neck. Close your eyes if you have to as this can reduce the temptation to look around.

Safety and Precautions

Do not do this pose if you have a neck injury or condition. Also avoid Shoulderstand if you have high blood pressure, glaucoma, a detached retina, recent dental bone grafts, or another condition where you should not allow your head to be lower than your heart.

Using folded blankets helps prevent the neck from being forced into an extremely flexed position. This position can result in muscle strain or the growth of bone spurs. In the worst case, you can injure a cervical disc or even sustain a neck fracture if you have osteoporosis.

If you feel any pain while doing Shoulderstand, stop the movement immediately and come out of the pose. Beginners may want to stay in this position for one or two breaths whereas more advanced yoga practitioners might hold it for up to 10 breaths.

Try It Out

Incorporate this move and similar ones into one of these popular workouts:

8 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Ann Pizer, RYT
Ann Pizer is a writer and registered yoga instructor who teaches vinyasa/flow and prenatal yoga classes.