Stack Up!

Stacking up can mean many things. As an avid reader, I’m usually stacking my pile of books. Stacking simply put is, neatly piling or arranging things in order. At work as a research scientist, I find myself ‘data stacking’ to simplify my datasets and prepare them for further analysis. Stacking the data neatly into one organized column, helps me run many types of specific analyses for further understanding of my research. Needless to say, the order it is stacked in is not interchangeable and gives the data meaning. 

Similarly, in yoga, we stack the bones in our body so it can bear our weight in a pose and ensure a good alignment to prevent us from injuries. Specifically, in the shoulder stand, it is vital to ensure the body is stacked ideally for our breath to flow with ease. Stacking into proper skeletal support forms good alignment, minimal muscular effort, and smooth breathing. 

The shoulder stand, “Sarvangasana” is an inverted asana. The inversion stimulates blood pressure sensors in the neck and upper chest, triggering reflexes that calm the brain, slow the heart, and relax the blood vessels. It is a pose that comes naturally to me – a reason why I also enjoy it so much. But it is precisely why I lacked the technical anatomical and muscular knowledge of the pose.

This is how I come into the shoulder stand: I begin with lying flat on my back, with my arms by side. First I bend my knees and on an exhale, bring my knees to my face. With this momentum, I lift my hips and back up, with my hands supporting the lower back. Ensuring my elbows are grounded and tucked in, I push up my hips such that they are in line from feet to shoulders. My neck is engaged in a chin bandha, and my shoulder blades are pulled into the upper back. This movement creates space between the chin and the chest. Once I attain the balance and alignment required, I feel tranquil, to say the least – perhaps an indication that I successfully stacked, requiring minimal effort in muscles and breath. 

Dissecting the shoulder stand more technically: To lift your body up against gravity, it is vital to tighten the erector spinae in the back and the posterior deltoids in your shoulders. Flexibility in the chest and shoulder helps straighten the body vertically up, with the elbows and backs of your arms push firmly against the ground to provide support. For your arms to come into the supportive sweet spot, it requires flexibility in the pectoralis major muscle and the anterior part of the deltoid muscle. When the left and right pectoralis major muscles contract, they assist in flexing your arms forward, adducting them together in front of you, and then internally rotating them toward one another; all this action is happening behind you in your shoulder stand. The anterior part of the deltoid muscle assists in extending the shoulders to reach your arm behind your shoulders and firmly grounding your elbows.

By understanding the inner workings, it explains why attaining each alignment in the pose is important. It also allows me to help those who are unable to come into this pose, by stretching out and working on the flexibility of certain muscle groups; which in this case are the pecs and frontal deltoids!