Inversions: The Upsides of Down
Love them or loathe them, inversions are an integral part of any yoga practice. An inversion can be any move or activity where you are either fully or partially upside down: a handstand (Adho Mukha Vrksasana), shoulderstand (Salamba Sarvangasana) or a downward dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) are obvious candidates.
For many of us, the thought of going upside down can be quite daunting. It can be a fear of falling and hurting ourselves that might be stopping us. But on a deeper level it might also be about the unknown and perhaps even failure. Success is so ingrained in our results-driven society that failure is seen as, well, failure – and fear of it prevents us from attempting things in the first place.
But by challenging yourself and getting out of your comfort zone you can benefit so much, not just physically but also psychologically.
The good news is you don’t have to go full on into a headstand if you want to reap the benefits of inversions and you can work your way slowly towards going fully upside down. Even something as simple as lying on the floor with your legs up the wall (Viparita Karani) counts as an inversion. You can work towards more “advanced” poses once you feel comfortable with the concept.
Remember to use as many props as you need, especially a wall. Keep a sense of humour and don’t forget to laugh at yourself when you fall over (because you will). Work with a teacher you trust. It’s worth persevering because, along with the health benefits, inversions can make you feel playful and liberated.
There are numerous benefits to a regular inversion practice. Going upside down alters the flow of cerebral spinal fluid, and gravity aids fresh blood to cycle throughout the tissues and organs of the body. The top ten benefits of inversions include:
Defying gravity allows your lymphatic system to work more effectively. The upside down position means lymph fluid can move around your body more easily, supporting your immune system by picking up toxins so they can be removed by your lymph nodes.
Release of Tension
Inversion moves provide relief from tension in your back and neck, as they ease the day-to-day pressure and help to stretch out and lengthen your spine. Practising with your legs up the wall is one of the easiest restorative yoga poses which will activate your parasympathetic nervous system and help relax you.
The act of performing an inversion sends a rush of blood to your head. This provides you with more oxygen, which improves mental function, including concentration, processing and memory. It’s the perfect way to give yourself a lift first thing or an antidote to the mid-afternoon slump.
When you flip yourself upside down, gravity’s pull on your digestive system is reversed. This helps move waste along in your gut, helping eliminations and leaving you feeling lighter.
Reversing gravity flushes fresh nutrients and oxygen to the face, stimulates the facial capillaries and hair follicles of the scalp, and helps remove visual signs of toxicity (including acne), giving your skin a natural “face lift” and healthy glow.
Inversions can promote healthier lungs. Upright, gravity works against us by pulling blood down in to our lower lungs, causing shallow breathing. Inversions get the blood moving around the whole of your lungs, allowing you to breathe more deeply and improving your lung function in the process.
The force of gravity can result in a sluggish circulatory system, but turning yourself on your head will help give it a boost and get it flowing. Take note, improved blood flow means a better oxygen supply to all parts of your body helping it function better.
Gives a New Perspective
Seeing the world upside down quite literally gives you a new perspective and allows you to see things differently. If you think a little deeper about it, it might help you approach a real-life situation with a fresh angle.
Strengthens Your Core
To perform many inversion moves, you often have to call on your arm, shoulder and abdominal muscles to maintain balance. This is great for improving upper body and core strength.
Headstands, handstands and anything where you’re upside down and likely to topple over are fun! The bring a childlike playfulness to your practice, and you can find out why that’s so important in my post here.
Just three to five minutes a day of inversions can bring these benefits.
Please be aware: Although inversions have many health benefits, if you are experiencing neck pain or injuries, glaucoma, high or low blood pressure, hernias, back pain, headaches, diarrhoea or asthma you should avoid inversions.
Personally, I love a shoulderstand, but am terrified by handstands (always have been; clearly not me in the photograph). Love a headstand though. When I can manage it.
Do you love or loathe inversions?