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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Kelly


sarvāngāsana total body pose: shoulderstand sarva + anga + āsana

a + a = ā

a + ā = ā

Whenever two a-vowels meet, whether short or long, a or ā, they merge to produce ā.  

sarva all, every aṅga limb, body The verbal notion inside aṅga is bending, that which bends (related to angle, ankle, anchor), and the word is ambiguously either limb or the body as a whole: sarvānga is either every limb or the whole body, but presumably the latter. āsana sitting, pose  ās- VERBAL CORE sit, remain unchanged + -ana ‘ing’ Who invented this name for the pose is not known, but it is not found in any of the haṭha-yogic texts. Notably the entry for it in the Yoga-sopāna has no verse to give for it but goes straight into the Marathi explanation. The form of the pose it presents appears to be the same as one shown in the 1830 Joga-pradīpika but which is there called viparīta-karaṇī, ‘inverted practice.’ There was probably interaction with Scandinavian gymnastics where similar inversions came into use.  The current importance of shoulderstand owes much to Swami Kuvalayananda who in the 1924 set up the Kaivalyadhama Institute for the scientific study (lots of measuring) of yogic practices. With this went an attempt to reconfigure yoga as a tool of precisely targeted therapy—among the conditions shoulderstand is said to help are leprosy and erectile dysfunction. Claims about the general value of pose may be on stronger ground. In his journal Yoga Mimamsa (‘yoga investigation’) he published three long articles on sarvāngāsana which he translated as ‘the pan-physical pose.’ For Iyengar in his 1966 Light on Yoga shoulderstand is the ‘Mother of asanas’ and ‘one of the greatest boons conferred on humanity by our ancient sages’ (2001 edition p.170)—or in another version shoulderstand is the Queen of poses and headstand the King, but if you can’t do the King, the Queen is just as good.


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