You're loving your yoga class from Half Moon to Pigeon Pose, but as soon as you get to Shoulderstand, you're less than psyched. Although a basic — challenging, but basic — pose, Shoulderstand can put you at risk of strain and injury when done incorrectly. Turn this pose into your favorite by checking out these common complaints and ways to remedy them.
"I Can't Breathe"
If you're well endowed or carry extra weight in your belly, then gravity causes added pressure on the lungs and throat, making it tough to take in a deep breath. A supportive bra and fitted top can help, but if you still have trouble breathing, then changing how you do the pose will make a huge improvement. Instead of stacking your pelvis and feet directly over your shoulders, hinge at your hips slightly, pressing them away from your face so your feet extend slightly behind your head.
Still can't breathe? Try the Legs Up the Wall variation; rest your lower back on your mat or, to give your hips a little lift, rest your lower back on a folded-up blanket or flat bolster.
"My Neck Hurts"
The weight of your lower body on your shoulders and neck can be intense, especially if you're new to yoga or have weak core and lack upper body strength. If this is the reason your neck or shoulders hurt, then be sure to do poses that strengthen your abs (Boat and Warrior 3) as well as your upper body (Quarter Dog and Dolphin Plank).
Incorrect alignment can also contribute to pain or discomfort. If your elbows tend to slide apart, then your shoulders will roll inward, causing your torso to sink down and putting added pressure on your upper vertebrae. Before coming into the pose, be sure you're resting your upper body on a sticky mat to prevent slipping. Come into Shoulderstand from Plow Pose, with both feet overhead and your hips over your shoulders. Interlace your fingers into a double fist and gently rock your upper body from side to side to bring your shoulder blades as close together as possible. You can keep your hands in this position when lifting up into Shoulderstand, and it'll prevent your elbows from sliding apart. Once in the pose, you can rest your hands on your lower back. Do not turn your head at all.
If you're new to this inversion, then stay in it for only 10 to 30 seconds, and gradually increase the duration as your body becomes stronger and more accustomed to the pose. If you feel your upper vertebrae digging into the floor, then invest in a thicker mat (such as the Manduka Black Mat Pro) or do Shoulderstand with a folded-up towel underneath your head, shoulders, and upper arms. Another trick is to actively press your feet up, as if pushing into the ceiling, to remove some of the weight from your upper body. Your instructor may place their hands or arms on the soles of your feet and have you push against them to feel this lifting sensation. If this still doesn't alleviate pain, then try the Legs Up the Wall variation.
"I Feel Unstable"
Balancing with your feet floating above your head is not a position you are commonly in, so it's no wonder you feel shaky and unstable. To prevent feeling like you're about to tip over, correct alignment is key. Keeping the elbows in line with the shoulders will create a solid base, and engaging your core will also add stability. Have your instructor watch you do the pose so they can ensure that your bones are stacked appropriately.