Salamba Sarvangasana (supported all body pose) or popularly known as shoulder stand is considered the “mother” of asanas. It has therapeutic benefit for every system in your body. That’s why it’s probably called “all body pose.”
If done incorrectly. it may cause damage to the cervical spine. I will attempt in a series of picture to illustrate the correct approach to this pose.
First the setup: you will need 4 blankets, a chair, a sticky mat, and a block. See below for the visual:
On a sticky mat laid out flat, put the blankets at one end with the smooth edges facing the chair. Fold the sticky mat tail 2/3 over the blankets as seen in photo. Make sure the edges of the blankets are in one straight vertical plane. If you have the fringes out it will create unevenness in the base:
Lay on your back on top of the blankets and have your shoulder tops 1 to 1.5 inches (3-4 cm) from the edge of the blankets.
Reach back and hold the bottom part of the legs of the chair, push the chair back until your arms are straight.
From this point NEVER TURN YOUR HEAD as you can damage the C7 part of your spine.
Pushing down with the elbows, swing your legs overhead until the feet reach the chair.
This is called Halasana (plow pose). Push the thighs up toward the ceiling until the legs are taut.
From here, straighten your arms behind you and hook your thumbs with the fingers pointed toward the ceiling, roll to the right side and tuck your left shoulder underneath. Then repeat right side. Do a few times until the skin of the shoulder is well underneath.
Support the back with the hands with the palm touching the flesh of the back (not cloth) and fingers facing toward the ceiling.
Keeping taut legs, take one leg up at a time until the ankles knees, hips and deltoids are in one vertical plane.
At first just practice getting in and holding for one minute. Eventually you build your time up to five minutes.
To come out, KEEP YOUR LEGS TAUT, as you lower one leg down the chair at a time. If you allow the legs to go limp you will crash your feet on the chair. Then reach your hands to the chair, bend your knees and roll down.
And then your pose will look like this:
You should not do this pose if you are menstruating (or any other pose where the pelvis is elevated). In ayurveda, which is the sister science to yoga, it is advised that one should not interrupt the direction of drainage from the body.
It would be highly advisable to find an Iyengar certified yoga teacher to instruct you to do this pose initially, than use this blog entry as a reminder.