How to Do Shoulderstand (Salamba Sarvangasana) in Yoga


Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Also Known As: Supported Shoulderstand

Targets: Stretching shoulders and neck

Equipment Needed: Folded blankets

Level: Intermediate

Shoulderstand has been called the queen of asanas, a view affirmed by B.K.S. Iyengar in "Light on Yoga." It's often the first inversion that yoga beginners tackle because it's much more stable than a headstand or handstand. However, there are serious risks associated with doing Shoulderstand, so it's important to set up the pose correctly for the safest possible experience.

It is part of the Ashtanga yoga closing sequence and you may find it at the end of various yoga classes. Fish Pose (Matsyasana) is considered a counterpart pose and is often done after Shoulderstand to relieve any neck tension.


Shoulderstand stretches the shoulders and neck. As an inversion, it sends blood from the legs and pelvis back to the heart and lungs to become freshly oxygenated, which may increase energy. Like many yoga poses, practicing Shoulderstand can be a calming and relaxing experience when performed correctly.

Step-by-Step Instructions

Although there are other ways to enter Shoulderstand, coming from Plow Pose (Halasana) offers the best way for beginners to get their 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. They should be lined up with the end of your mat.

When you come into the pose, your shoulders and upper back should be on the blanket, but your head and neck should be off it. The head is on the bare floor so that it can slide if necessary, and the blankets give your neck the lift it needs to maintain its natural curve instead of being flattened to the floor.

  1. Start with a stack of two folded blankets. Lay down on your mat aligning shoulders onto the blankets. 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 gently rising.
  2. Lift your hips off of the mat coming into bridge pose and extend your arms onto the ground, palms facing down as if your hands could touch your heels. Press firmly into the palms using them as leverage to lift onto the balls of the feet and extend one leg up. Bend at the elbows, place your hands on your low back creating a shelf, and then extend the next leg up.
  3. Once you raise the legs, don't turn your head to the side to look around the room, since you can injure your neck. Keep your gaze upward and your neck straight.
  4. Lift up through the balls of your feet. Walk your hands further up the back for more stability. Feel the chest reaching towards the chin to support opening the upper back.
  5. Move your hips toward the front of the room and your feet toward the back of the room to straighten the body. The correct alignment is with the hips over the shoulders and feet over the hips. Ask your teacher or a friend to help you determine if your legs are perpendicular to the floor.
  6. Stay in the pose for up to 10 breaths.
  7. To come out, bring your feet back over your head to come through Plow Pose.
  8. Roll out from Plow slowly.

Common Mistakes

The alignment of your legs and torso when you are in the full pose is key, so make appropriate changes as needed to achieve a proper position. Very often, students do Shoulderstand with their butts sticking out and their feet over their foreheads instead of over their hips. This throws the whole pose off. To avoid this problem, tuck your shoulder blades firmly into your back and make sure your heels stay over your hips.

Modifications and Variations

To achieve the benefits of this pose, there are variations that target the same areas, as well as ways to deepen it.

Need a Modification?

If your elbows want to move out toward the sides of your mat, try using a looped strap around the upper arms to keep them shoulder-width apart. Measure the length of the strap ahead of time against your shoulders and slide it onto your upper arms before you enter Plow Pose.

If you don't feel ready for Shoulderstand, try this variation instead: From Supported Bridge with a block under the sacrum, lift your legs straight up toward the ceiling.

Legs-up-the-Wall Pose is another good option if you want to avoid inversions during your period

Up for a Challenge?

There are many variations on the position of the legs this pose, including bringing them legs into a wide "V" shape, or into Cobbler's Pose (Baddha Konasana) or Lotus position.

When coming out of the pose, move into Ear Pressure Pose (Karnapidasana).

Safety and Precautions

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

Using the folded blankets helps prevent the neck from being forced into an extremely flexed position, which can result in muscle strain or the growth of bone spurs. In the worst case, you can get an injury to one of the cervical disks or even a neck fracture if you have osteoporosis.

Turning your neck during this pose puts you at risk for injury and should be avoided at all times. If you don't use blankets or other supports, do not bring your body fully vertical.

Try It Out

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

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6 Sources
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