THE ASANAS Inversions
Lower legs
With your feet in plantar
exion, your calf muscles
are engaged with some
stretch in your dorsiexors,
particularly your tibialis
anterior muscles. Try
dorsiexing your ankles, with
your heels to the ceiling,
and feel the stretch shift to
your calf muscles.
VARIATION
Supported shoulderstand
allows you to bring your
legs vertical to perform
the traditional pose safely.
Folded blankets under the
shoulders take pressure
and the sharp angle o
your neck. Reducing the
degree of neck flexion
in this way lessens the
risk of injury,
particularly if you
have neck issues.
ALIGNMENT
By flexing your hips,
you distribute more
weight toward your hands
and o your upper body.
This is shoulderstand not
neckstand. Avoid anything
that causes pain or intense
pressure in your neck.
Neck flexion less
than or equal to
50 degrees
Weight on shoulders
and upper arms
Shoulderstand is a classic inversion
, often done at
the end of an asana class to relax. It can help lower
your blood pressure and activate the rest, digest, and
rejuvenate part of your nervous system. The version
shown here reduces pressure on the neck.
THE BIG
PICTURE
This pose gently strengthens the muscles at the front of your
neck, while your upper back and neck muscles stretch. The
muscles of your core and thighs engage to stabilize you and
hold your body in an inverted position.
HALF
SHOULDERSTAND
Ardha Sarvangasana
Around
2–4 folded
blankets
Legs vertical
and drawn
together
Legs drawn
together
Soleus
Tibialis anterior
Gastrocnemius
Ankle
Biceps femoris (long head)
Rectus femoris
Biceps femoris (short head)
Knee
Weight of
legs slightly
forward
Hips flexed,
to create a
counterbalance
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133
Thighs
Your quadriceps extend your
knees while your hamstrings
and gluteus maximus help
stabilize your thighs while in
a lengthened position. Your
adductors engage. In this
version of the pose, your hip
exors engage to stabilize
your hips.
Arms
Your posterior deltoids,
latissimus dorsi, and teres
major muscles engage to
extend your shoulders further
by pressing your upper arms into
the oor. Your brachialis, biceps
brachii, and brachioradialis
muscles
engage to ex your elbows.
Your wrist exors engage to press
into your lower back, holding
your hips up.
Neck and torso
Your cervical exors
engage, while your cervical
extensors stretch. Your
trapezius, serratus anterior,
and pectoralis major are
stretching. Your spinal
extensors are mostly
stretching but slightly
engaging to create a lifting
action. Imagine your feet
oating up toward the sky
to aid this elevation.
Hip
Gluteus maximus
Biceps femoris (long head)
Tensor fasciae latae
Semitendinosus
Vastus lateralis
Rectus femoris
Biceps femoris (short head)
Knee
Longus muscles
Splenius muscles
Sternocleidomastoid
Pectoralis major
Serratus anterior
Spinal extensors
Spine
Psoas major
Triceps brachii
Elbow
Biceps brachii
Deltoids
Flexor d. superficialis
Flexor carpi ulnaris
Brachioradialis
Wrist
KEY
Joints
Muscles
Engaging
Engaging while
stretching
Stretching
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134
HALF SHOULDERSTAND
Ardha Sarvangasana
CLOSER LOOK
Shoulderstand is particularly eective at encouraging
lymphatic drainage and improving overall circulation.
Although it may not stimulate your thyroid, it can
stimulate baroreceptors to lower your blood pressure.
Lymphatic drainage
Lymph vessels rely on
movement to pump lymphatic
uid around your body. Like
veins, they have one-way valves
that prevent backow (see
opposite). Inverting encourages
these valves to open,
preventing or alleviating
edema (a buildup of uids)
in your ankles.
Heart pumps blood
Lymph nodes
Carotid baroreceptors
(pressure sensors)
Arteries carry
blood to brain
Baroreceptors
When inverting, blood pressure initially goes up. Then,
signals to your brain should set in motion a cascade
of events to lower your blood pressure and maintain
homeostasis. This drop may be enhanced by the physical
pressure placed on carotid baroreceptors in neck exion.
Regular practice of inversions could lower your blood
pressure over time.
Shoulders
rest on the
floor
Avoid putting pressure
on your head or neck
Psoas major
particularly
engages
Hip flexors
are engaged
Knees can
be straight or
flexed slightly
Tibialis anterior
lengthens
Lymph
vessels
ANTERIOR VIEW
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135
THE ASANAS
Inversions
Your thyroid regulates
your metabolism and
energy levels
Compression
from head
Thyroid stimulation
Yogis claim that this pose stimulates and
regulates your thyroid gland. However, unlike
your digestive tract, the thyroid doesn’t
function through mechanical pressure and
movement. Although it is possible that the
increased blood ow could aect its function,
scientic evidence does not seem to support
these claims.
Gluteal muscles may
also engage minimally
Arms support
your lower back
Hamstrings may
engage slightly to
maintain balance
In this version, feet
are pointed (in
plantar flexion)
Open valve allows
blood to flow
Venous blood ow
Unlike arteries, veins do not have muscular
walls to transport blood around your body.
Instead they have one-way valves that
prevent backow and help carry
deoxygenated blood back to your heart.
Inversions allow gravity to open the valves for
you, encouraging venous return to your heart
and improving circulation.
Closed valve
blocks blood flow
Slight compression
from chest
POSTERIOR–LATERAL VIEW
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