• Sarvangasana: Shoulderstand — It’s History, Meaning and Method, BAHIRANGA.COM, APRIL 2017

    Posted in Articles by Eric Shaw

    Shoulder stand is a mysterious pose.

    Scholars make an educated guess that it’s been with us since at least pre-modern times.

    By its Sanskrit name, Salamba Sarvangasana, we can date it only back to 1924, where we read about in the printed work of Swami Kuvalayananda, of the Lonavla Ashram. 

    But, if Salamba Sarvangasana is the same pose as Viparita Karani — mentioned in the 15th century Hatha Yoga Pradipika — it has been with us for many centuries.

    The earliest picture we have of the pose by this name is fairly late — but this picture of Viparita Karani makes it look alot like Shoulderstand (in its “unsupported” form).

    We see the image in 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 subject of the the picture probably learned the pose from Swami Vivekananda (1863 – 1902), or one of his students.

    For a long time it was thought that Vivekananda—who came to America in 1893 — didn’t teach asana, but this image and others from the Herald are our main evidence that he did. The article refers to Swami V and was written by his American disciple, Swami Kripananda.

    Shoulderstand in the West

    We find Shoulderstand in many earlyWestern 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 is called, “Candle,” “Candlestick,” or “Swedish Candle,” and it is still identified that way outside yoga circles because Ling’s exercises spread throughout the world, being utilized even in Krishnamacharya’s time (1888 – 1989).

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

    She simply called it “Legs in the Air.”

     

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  • One Response to "Sarvangasana: Shoulderstand — It’s History, Meaning and Method, 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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