“Sarvangasana is the Mother of Asanas. As a mother strives for harmony and happiness in the home, so this asana strives for the harmony and happiness of the human system.”
B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Yoga
The very first environment where I taught teenagers yoga was at a college in Virginia. Though it was 15 years ago, I remember well one young woman’s essay (as required by my class) that expressed her gratitude to yoga, and in particular, shoulderstand. This 18-year-old woman was suicidal at the time and felt that shoulderstand had saved her life.
Sarvanagasana, or shoulderstand, is called the “queen of all asana” due to its plethora of benefits and is named literally “whole body pose”, where sarva means whole, complete, entire and anga means limbs or body. Shoulderstand is known for optimizing hormonal function, making it a natural choice when seeking to stabilize and regulate the body during teenage years. It also elicits a parasympathetic nervous system response that is profoundly quieting for the mind and body and calming for the stress teens regularly experience.
How I sum it up for teens is that it is a healing pose that you can literally feel healing you.
“Shoulderstand for teenagers” makes sense to me. I’ve seen the calming results with my students and have experienced the sublime refuge it offers in my personal practice for years.
Teens often seek to feel something deeply, usually unconsciously, especially teens who have experienced pain and are now numb to themselves in some way. Shoulderstand is a dramatic pose to experience. With its strong and tangible affects that are deeply felt, shoulderstand satisfies the teen quest for aliveness. Yoga and shoulderstand, in particular, helps them connect to a deep sense of self and therefore can bring light to darkness, or awareness to the numbing.
Also, it is a pose that looks unusual, to say the least. It gets teens’ attention, and it is challenging. These are all attractive qualities from my teenage-informed view. I personally think it’s good for teens to strive for something that’s not quite easy to do and yet offers such reward once they have arrived.
Whether a student is new to the pose and can only stay for 15 seconds or is more experience and can hold it for 5 minutes, releasing out of the pose is profound. The contrast in going from vertical and upside-down to horizontal and supine provides an interesting perspective. Yoga, after all, is about changing our perspective.
Having explained my advocacy of the pose, I often do not teach it. I am most comfortable teaching it when:
- There are adequate props to create a proper base such that the cervical spine is compromised with over-flexion. (This requires two to five blankets or similar firm platform such that the entire length of the upper arm from elbow to the shoulder is supported.)
- There is enough space for each student to come in and out of the pose safely, without running into others.
- An atmosphere of quiet exists. With quiet, students can pay attention to instructions and also experience the pose in its due silence.
- The class agrees to pay attention. It’s a serious matter to go upside down.
Here are my precautions to teens:
- “Take out pony tails, if you have them, so that the back of the head can rest evenly on the ground.”
- “Be sure NOT to turn your head. Do not turn your head. Keep your nose pointing up. Even if you hear your name being called, do not turn your head.”
- “Come down if you have neck pain of any kind. Watch for signs of strain in your eyes or face. Monitor your breath.”
- “Though we’re not talking, your voice should be normal. You can do a mini talk test to ensure you are not straining.”
- “This pose is not for you if it’s your time of the month, ladies.”
While in the pose, encourage breath awareness. Adjust students toward better alignment provided you are a teacher who is experienced and knowledgeable with regards to safety. Those of you who’ve had a good shoulderstand adjustment by an experienced teacher know that some help shifting the weight better onto the outer arms and up through the legs is very much appreciated.
I’ve explained WHY I teach shoulderstand to teenagers, WHEN I teach shoulderstand to teens, and the important precautions for teens. If you want to know HOW to teach shoulderstand to teens, that information is detailed with the basic actions of the pose, setup, sequencing, and other tips for alignment and class handling in our book, Yoga 4 Teens, An Instructor’s Guide to Teaching Yoga to Teenagers.