• Upside-down & Backwards: Viva Shoulderstand!, BAHIRANGA.COM, APRIL 2017

    Posted in Articles by Eric Shaw

    Shoulderstand is a mystery pose.

    Scholars make an educated guess that it’s old, old, old.  

    It’s been with us since at least pre-modern times.

    By its Sanskrit name, Salamba Sarvangasana, we can only date it to 1924.  That year, it’s talked about in the printed work of Swami Kuvalayananda, of the Lonavla Ashram in West India. 

    But, if Salamba Sarvangasana is the same pose as Viparita Karani — mentioned in the 15th century Hatha Yoga Pradipika — we gotta push it’s date waaay before 1924.

    The earliest picture we have of shoulderstand by the name, Viparita Karani, is still pretty recent— but this image makes it look lots like Shoulderstand (in its form called, “unsupported”).

    The image comes from the March, 27 1898 New York Herald !(Figure 1).

    Figure 1. An unidentified man in “Viparitakarani” from The New York Herald, March, 1898

    Figure 1. “Viparitakarani” from The New York Herald, March, 1898

    The guy in the pic probably learned the pose from Swami Vivekananda (1863 – 1902), or one of his students.

    For a long time it was thought that this important teacher Vivekananda—who brought yoga to America in 1893 — taught meditation and chanting—but no asana, yet this image and others from the Herald are our main evidence that he did! The Herald article refers to Swami V, and it was written by his American disciple, Swami Kripananda.

    Shoulderstand in the West

    We find Shoulderstand in many early Western sources.

    The gymnastic system of the famous Swede who invented modern group gymnastics, Pehr Ling (1776 – 1839) used the pose as early as 1806.

    Figure 2. “Legs in the Air” from Building the Body Beautiful: The Bagot-Stack Stretch and Swing System, 1931

    Figure 2. “Legs in the Air” from Building the Body Beautiful: The Bagot-Stack Stretch and Swing System, 1931

    In his system, Shoulderstand was called, “Candle,” “Candlestick,” or “Swedish Candle,” and it’s sometimes identified that way today outside yoga circles.  Ling’s spread his exercises and his terminology throughout the world, and it was utilized even in the revolutionary teacher Krishnamacharya’s time (1888 – 1989).

    The early system of vinyasa yoga created by the Brit, Mollie Bagot Stack (1883-1935), called “Stretch and Swing” (partly created from poses she learned in India in 1911) uses shoulderstand, too (seen in Figure 2).

    She labelled it simply “Legs in the Air.”

     

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  • One Response to "Upside-down & Backwards: Viva Shoulderstand!, BAHIRANGA.COM, APRIL 2017"

    1. Scott May 8, 2017 18:01 pm

      I like how you made a clean break with Remski’s ilk to present yoga as it is. It took a lot of courage. Thank you.

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