Inversions! I remember being terrified that at any moment during a class my teacher would say, “Okay everybody we’re going to practice inversions now.” Anxiety, fear, insecurity; all those feelings yoga is supposed to help you navigate away from all presented themselves, literally all at the same time. Then I learned a little more about inversions, my practice got stronger and now I can’t wait to get better and better at inverting because they make me look super cool… I’m just kidding, even though that’s sort of true, the real reason is because going upside can actually ward off illness. Wanna know how???
So first of all, to invert simply means to: “put upside down or in the opposite position, order, or arrangement.” In yoga this means that we are practicing poses where the head is below the heart like the following: Adho Mukha Vrksasana or Handstand, Pincha Mayurasana or Forearm Balance, Sirsasana or Headstand, and Salamba Sarvangasana or Shoulder Stand. These poses are slightly more advanced but there are inversions that we can all do. These are some poses that are more accessible to a larger population: Adho Mukha Svanasana or Downward Facing Dog, Dolphin (headstand prep), and standing forward folds like Uttanasana and Prasarita Padottanasana. So even though these poses actually do look super cool and people love to practice them because they are challenging and exciting, they serve a much more profound purpose. Let’s take a look…
- Improve coordination and balance
- Good for circulation: When you’re inverted you’re literally reversing the flow of your blood, assisting movement of the lymphatic system. This will supply the brain with more oxygen and can improve overall circulation. It can also reduce swelling in the feet and legs.
- Strengthen the upper body
- Alleviate Headaches related to muscular tension
- Improve respiration
- Improve digestion
- May regulate endocrine system
- Increase immunity and prevent illness: As mentioned above, inversions can assist movement of the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system keeps the body healthy by clearing waste from cells and tissues and circulating antibodies. Lymphs move as a result of muscle contractions and gravity, so when we go upside down in inversions it helps to move the lymphs more easily to remove toxins from the body.
- Calming and or invigorating: Depending on how you practice the inversion itself (length of time, placement of the inversion in the sequence, level of the inversion, etc.) However, the poses that typically invigorate are: handstand, headstand and forearm balance. The poses that can typically help you relax are: shoulder stand and legs up the wall. Both of these help to sooth the nervous system.
- Brain function: As I mentioned in the above section, inversions reverse the flow of blood and provide the brain with more oxygen which can increase mental functioning and improve concentration, memory and processing thoughts.
- Shift energy & mood: Some of these poses activate the parasympathetic nervous system which slows the body down by taking the body out of the fight-or-fight reaction like when we’re stressed. So poses like: shoulder stand and legs up the wall can help to shift your mood and sooth the nervous system.
- Can help depression (depends on the severity and cause of the depression)
- Builds confidence: When you kick up into handstand for the first time after countless hours, days, weeks, months, maybe even years of practice…wow, what an absolutely incredible feeling. You literally feel like you can conquer the world (even if it’s only for just that moment when you’re upside down). Talk about building confidence!
- Deepen mindfulness & concentration: It takes a lot of concentration and dedication to perform these poses safely and with great ease, thus building your concentration skills and mindfulness in general.
Some people should NOT be practicing inversions. Please consult a doctor before you practice inversions if you are experiencing any of the following.
- Eye problems (detached retina, glaucoma, etc.) Increased inter-ocular pressure does occur.
- High blood pressure
- Gastric reflux
- Advanced or serious osteoporosis
- Wrist, shoulder or neck injuries or history of problems: cervical spine can be compressed and the discs as well as the cervical spine can become stressed, especially if practicing without the use of props.
- Fear and physical weakness: baby steps, practice poses that are preparatory to prepare yourself to kick up. Your shoulders, back and core should be strong and preparatory poses can also help you build confidence so that one day you’ll eventually be upside-down.
- Pregnancy and menstruation are always topics of discussion when deciding whether or not to go up. I know women who have been practicing yoga for many years that practice throughout their entire pregnancy. This does not mean that it’s for everyone. If you’re pregnant and new to yoga inversions are probably best to stay away from. If you’re experiencing a pregnancy with complications your doctor will most likely tell you to avoid more than just inversions. Regarding menstruation: I never go upside down on my cycle but I do know a lot of women that do. Do your own research and talk to your physician.
Bottom line… Have fun and be safe! Remember always consult your doctor first, do a little research on your own and take care of yourself. Yoga is incredibly beneficial to your health when practiced with care and proper knowledge.