Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Yoga: The Shoulder Stand and the Plough

The Shoulder Stand or the Sarvangasana invigorates and rejuvenates your whole body. This asana gives almost the same benefits as the Head Stand, but with a difference. Inverting the body at right angles to the head stretches the neck and upper spine and, most importantly, stimulates the thyroid and parathyroid glands by pressing your chin into the base of your throat.

This pose encourages deep abdominal breathing because it limits the use of the top of your lungs. Initially this may feel a little constricting, but you will soon adapt as you relax into the pose. The Plough follows on from the Shoulder Stand, and gives similar benefits. The cycle ends with the Bridge, which counters the two previous poses. All three improve the flexibility of your spine. However, before beginning the Shoulder Stand, make sure that there is enough room behind you.

Steps for how to do the Shoulder Stand:

Lie flat on your back, with your feet together. Lay your hands flat on the floor next to your sides. Inhale while bringing your legs up to a right angle.
Tuck your hands under your buttocks, with your fingers pointing toward your spine. Then, as you exhale, gently raise your body by letting your hands walk down your back and push you into position. Your elbows are bent and flat on the floor. Your legs are straight but relaxed.

Continue to move your hands up your back until you rest on your shoulders. Feel your body lift from the base of your neck. Press your chin into your neck. Breathe normally, and keep your legs straight. Hold for 30 seconds; as the pose becomes easier, increase the time to 3 minutes.

To come down, drop your feet halfway to the floor behind your head. Put your hands on the floor. Breathe normally until your whole spine is resting on the floor and your legs are at right angles to it, then exhale as you slowly lower your legs, keeping the knees straight.

The Plough: In the Plough, your body is bent forward. This stretches your entire spine, particularly your cervical vertebrae and shoulders.

Come up into a Shoulder Stand, and inhale deeply. Exhale while lowering your feet to the floor behind your head.

Rest your toes on the floor, then lay your arms down flat. Hold for 30 seconds at first, but aim to build up to 2 minutes. If you cannot lower your feet all the way, keep your hands on your back for support. To come out, lift your feet off the floor, and slowly roll down. Relax in the Corpse Pose.

You may try this variation if you are supple enough. Once in the Plough, lower your knees to the floor by your ears. Hook your arms over your legs. To come out, straighten your knees, then roll down.

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