In parts of the modern Yoga culture, props have been seen as crutches that should eventually be removed. The misunderstanding that once enough dues have been paid, and a daily committed practice has born the aptitude to perform postures without any outside assistance, props will naturally become obsolete. Unfortunately this has created an environment where students interpret the use of props as a demerit to their level of skill. The problem with this interpretation arises out of the Spiritual/metaphysical foundation of Yoga. Unlike learning to play a piano, the inability of an individual to execute a posture, can be interpreted as a spiritual deficiency.
Although there is a correlation, which is to say a relationship, between the health and state of one’s body, and their psychological wellbeing, it is important to be nuanced in this understanding enough to see that this does not imply a causation. This is afterall one of the main maxims of the scientific method, that we do not assume a cause-effect mechanism when there may merely be an influence. In the same way that being hit by a drunk driver does not mean that alcohol was itself to blame for the accident, we should be careful to equate physical ability with psycho-spiritual adroitness.
The practice of many Restorative yoga asana, as was founded by the late BKS Iyengar, have typically required props in order to support the body. Props are used for 2 main purposes:
A hallmark of Restorative poses, as well as the finishing postures within many Yoga sequences, is what is commonly referred to as the Queen of Asana, Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand).
Although Shoulderstand is so common in many different methods and styles, the technical elements of its performance are far less so. The biggest concern in the performance of Shoulderstand could perhaps be informed by its very name. The implication from it, is that one should “stand” on the “shoulders”. It should be noted, that the Sanskrit word “Sarvangasana” isn’t fully captured by its English translation. The technical translation amounts to something like “all limbs pose”.
From an anatomical vantage point, there is a tremendous danger in placing the weight of the body on the shoulders in this pose, because the shoulders are next door neighbors of the cervical spine (neck). Due to the fact that Shoulderstand demands so much neck flexion, requires us to be very calculated on how we may be compounding this already deep position with bearing the weight of the entire body on the base of the neck. The healthy structure of the cervical spine shows it to have a natural “lordosis”, which to put it simply, is a slight backbend. By placing the neck in flexion (forward bend) in this pose, already consigns it to the deepest permissible range of motion, which would only be magnified by supporting the weight of the body on the shoulders.
This is why the restorative setup of Shoulderstand, and the practical lessons imparted by it, deserves our attention.
- 4-5 Yoga blankets (or big towels...the amount of blankets should be increased in the presence of cervical pathologies or a longer cervical spine)
- Bolster or block
- Yoga belt/strap
- Place Yoga mat about 1 foot away from a wall, and sitting with legs straight and feet against the wall, mark where the sitting bones are on the mat with Yoga strap
-Fold 1st blanket to roughly ½ the size of Yoga mat, and place on the mat to align the edges of the mat and blanket, making sure that the tassel end is away from the mat’s edge
- Fold the remaining blankets to ½ the size of the first blanket, and stack them together neatly so that the edges of the blankets match the mark of the sitting bones
- Place bolster or block at the other end of the blanket stack
- Placing the yoga strap just above the elbows, adjust the size of the loop so that the arms are shoulder width apart
- Keep strap on one arm and lie down on the bolster and blanket stack so that the top edges of the shoulders are 1-2” behind the edge of the blanket stack
- Pushing down into blankets with arms carefully swing the legs, pelvis, and trunk overhead, and either rest the feet on the floor, or the wall if the neck or lower back are disturbed by going to the floor
- After checking that the top of the shoulders are now inline with the edge of the blanket stack, slide the belt loop around the remaining arm, make sure the strap sits just above the elbows, clasp the hands, and rock side-to-side while narrowing the shoulders blades closer to each other
- Release handclasp, place palms against the back ribs as close to the shoulders as possible, and carefully lift the legs up vertically, making sure that once all the way up the majority of body weight lands closer to the elbows, instead of shoulders, in order to keep pressure off the base of the neck
One of its greatest benefits resides in the fact that it is an inversion. By inverting the body, we directly affect the power and efficiency of the circulatory system, which increases heart rate variability (HRV) which is a standardized metric for measuring parasympathetic activity. The parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) is what induces the state of calm, serenity, and equanimity that gives Yoga its main appeal.
This means this pose may be performed a la carte, or at the end of a practice.
Great way to relax at the end of the day and induce the circadian rhythm toward rest and sleep
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