Inhale and raise legs to ninety degrees.
Come to Ardha Halasana. Inhale and raise back off the ground. Give support to back with hands. Raise legs up such that the whole body comes in a straight line. Hold.
Sarvangasana (shoulder stand)
1. Lie on the back on a folded blanket.
2. Check that the head and spine are aligned and that the legs are straight with the feet together.
3. Place the hands beside the body with the palms facing down. Relax the entire body and mind.
4. Contract the abdominal muscles and, with the support of the arms, slowly raise the legs to the vertical position, keeping them straight. When the legs are vertical, press the arms and hands down on the floor.
5. Slowly and smoothly roll the buttocks and spine off the floor, raising the trunk to a vertical position.
6. Turn the palms of the hands upward, bend the elbows and place the hands behind the ribcage, slightly away from the spine, to support the back. The elbows should be about shoulder width apart.
7. Gently push the chest forward so that it presses firmly against the chin.
8. In the final position, the legs are vertical, together and in a straight line with the trunk. The body is supported by the shoulders, nape of the neck and back of the head. The arms provide stability, the chest rests against the chin and the feet are relaxed.
9. Close the eyes. Relax the whole body in the final pose for as long as is comfortable.
10. To return to the starting position, bring the legs forward until the feet are above and behind the back of the head. Keep the legs straight.
11. Slowly release the position of the hands and place the arms on the floor beside the body with the palms down.
12. Gradually lower each vertebrae of the spine to the floor, followed by the buttocks, so that the legs resume their initial vertical position.
13. Lower the legs to the floor slowly, keeping the knees straight. Perform this action without using the arms for support. The whole movement should combine balance with control so that the body contacts the floor slowly and gently.
14. Relax in shavasana until the respiration and heartbeat return to normal.
Note: While holding, maintain normal breathing.
Breathing: Inhale in the starting position. Retain the breath inside while assuming the final pose. Practise slow, deep abdominal breathing in the final pose when the body is steady. Retain the breath inside while lowering the body to the floor.
Duration: Beginners should hold the final position for a few seconds only, gradually increasing the time over a period of weeks to an optimum of 3 to 5 minutes for general health. This practice should be performed only once during the asana programme.
Physical - on the control of the movement, on the breath or the thyroid gland.
Spiritual - on vishuddhi chakra.
Sequence: Sarvangasana is ideally practised immediately before halasana. After halasana, either matsyasana, ushtrasana or supta vajrasana should be practised as a counterpose for half the combined duration of sarvangasana and halasana.
Contra-indications: This asana should not be practised by people suffering from enlarged thyroid, liver or spleen, cervical spondylitis, slipped disc, high blood pressure or other heart ailments, weak blood vessels in the eyes, thrombosis or impure blood. It should be avoided during menstruation and advanced stages of pregnancy.
Benefits: By pressing the chest against the chin this asana stimulates the thyroid gland, balancing the circulatory, digestive, reproductive, nervous and endocrine systems. Together with the enriched blood flow to the brain, it also tranquillises the mind, relieves mental and emotional stress, fear and headaches, and helps clear psychological disturbances. The thymus gland is also stimulated, boosting the immune system. Its influence on the parathyroid glands ensures normal development and regeneration of the bones, preventing premature calcification. Abdominal breathing is induced, improving the exchange of air in the body, relieving stress and massaging the abdominal organs. Sarvangasana releases the normal gravitational pressure from the anal muscles, relieving haemorrhoids. It tones the legs, abdomen and reproductive organs, draining stagnant blood and fluid, and increasing circulation to these areas. Flexibility of the neck vertebrae is improved and the nerves passing through the neck to the brain are toned. Circulation is increased in this area generally, revitalising the ears, eyes and tonsils, preventing and relieving various throat and nose ailments. Sarvangasana is used in yoga therapy for the treatment of asthma, diabetes, colitis, thyroid disorders, impotence, hydrocele, prolapse, menopause, menstrual disorders and leucorrhoea. Regular practice helps to prevent cough, cold and flu.
Variation I: Assume sarvangasana. Exhale and lower one leg forward over the body until it is horizontal to the floor. The other leg should be vertical. Hold the pose for a few seconds. Inhale, return the leg to the vertical position and resume sarvangasana. Repeat on the other side.
Variation 2: Assume sarvangasana. Exhale, bend the hips forward, and lower both the straight legs over the head until they are parallel to the floor. Hold for a few seconds. Inhale and raise the legs to the vertical position.
Variation 3: Assume sarvangasana. Inhale and bend the right knee. Place the right foot on the left knee. Exhale, bend the hips forward and place the right knee on the forehead. The left leg should be horizontal to the floor. Retain the breath inside while holding this position. Return to sarvangasana. Repeat on the other side.