One thing about the ego is that it likes to feel right, even if it is not. It can be indignant and urgent, clouding the way toward an outcome grounded in sattva for all involved. Yoga is the gift that allows us to break through the ego’s façade and live our truth.
A good indication that you’re being directed by your ego is when you feel stubborn or that you have to justify, explain or defend. Direction from purusha, or the God of your heart, is gentle, less insistent and more loving. It is quieter than the loud voice of the ego, so often requires a shift in perspective to hear. Sometimes the simple act of changing our physical perspective can bring about this shift in the mind. This is the wisdom of inversions.
An inversion to cool pitta
In the summertime, when pitta’s fire element is more likely to light up the ego, practicing salambha sarvangasana, or supported shoulderstand, is a great way to bring about a change in perspective. Unlike most other inversions, salambha sarvangasana is cooling to the body and mind and has the added benefit of balancing energy in vishudda chakra in the throat, allowing you to speak your truth more clearly and easily.
Try incorporating salambha sarvangasana in your asana practice this summer, or any time throughout the year when pitta seems high, to cool down and tune in to the soft voice of your truth. Practice it where you would any other inversion or at the end of your practice.
Salambha sarvangasana from the ground up
There are three keys to practice this pose safely for long-term health. First, keep your neck in its natural curve (avoid tucking your chin into your chest or tilting it back). Second, be sure your entire spine, including the neck, is off the mat. Finally, be sure to keep your face straight up through the whole pose.
1. Begin by lying on your back. Keep your legs and feet together, arms beside you, palms facing down. Looking straight up at the ceiling, feel your neck in its natural curve. Your chin should neither be tucked nor lifted. Retain that throughout the entire pose.
2. Breathe and use the strength of your pelvic floor to swing your legs up, keeping them as straight as possible and together. Press your hands into the ground to assist the process.
3. Continue to swing your legs up to lift your hips off the ground. Bring your hands to your sacrum, fingers and thumbs together and straight up. Your back will be at a 45-degree angle and your feet toward the direction of your head in a jackknife position. This is not the full pose, but you can stay here and receive most of the benefit.
Here's another view of the hand position in step 3:
4. Walk your hands toward your upper back to lift your hips higher. As you do this, keep your legs straight. Keep all vertebrae off the mat and your neck in its natural curve.
Variations for salambha sarvangasana
If you are comfortable in salambha sarvangasana past step 3, work your way up to these variations.
1. Lace your hands and press them into the mat to lift your hips further, always keeping the spine lifting up and off the ground.
2. If you are comfortable in padmasana, seated lotus pose, you may add this variation and come out of the pose in padmasana as well.
Common trouble spots
Bending your knees to come up. If you can't bring your legs up straight and together, work on building your internal strength with a simpler inversion, such as sirsasana preparation.
Hands around waist, thumbs separated from the rest of the hand. Your hands should be on your sacrum, fingers and thumbs together, to utilize the leverage of your arms rather than stressing the thumb joints and avoid sinking into your lower back.
Neck flattened, chin tucked into chest. Flattening your neck in salambha sarvangasana, or any pose, distorts posture and reduces the blood flow through the nerves that run the sense organs.
Head tipped back or turned to the side. Your neck is in flexion in this pose; keep it in a neutral position in its natural curve to avoid injury.