If you are like the majority of Earth-bound humans, you spend most of your day upright with your head above your heart and your feet on the ground. We spend a fair amount of time more or less parallel with our head, heart and toes in alignment, more or less, depending on how many pillows we sleep on.
Some yoga postures have you with your head below you heart, such as downward facing dog and forward fold, but your feet are still rooted on the ground.
Getting your head lower than your heart and getting your legs up is a really good thing to do for a couple of minutes a day. There are a number of benefits to getting inverted:
- Being inverted may give your heart a break. Our hearts work all day long to pump blood up, fighting gravity to our neeediest organ: the brain. Luckily, our hearts are amazing, and they don’t need long to recuperate! Inversions are great for your circulation and for perking you up and energizing your brain.
- Inversions can improve focus and stimulate your brain. Some inversions make you focus because you must balance and some totally flip your world view on its head! Well, technically, you are flipped on your head, so your perspective changes. Stumped on a problem? Writer’s block? Re-reading the same paragraph over and over? Go invert your self for two minutes! Long-term benefits may include better memory and brain function.
- Inversions do two seemingly contradictory things: Energize you and relax you. Maybe because your heart got to take a break and your brain gets a burst of fresh oxygen, being inverted for a few minutes will recharge you, but they also can help you to slow your breathing and relax you. Headstands, hand stands and shoulder stands will not tend to be relaxing, but the others often are.
- A yoga book I read at some point said that while that blood is being pumped to your head, it plumps your facial blood vessels and claimed that this could reduce the appearance of wrinkles! I don’t know if that can be proven, but I’ll take it!
- Inversions reduce the pressure in your legs and feet. Many people stand up on their feet all day and many more sit all day. If you don’t sit down and get your feet up or get up and move during the day, your poor legs and feet could be swollen and painful. This pain can be especially true if you have varicose veins and some research suggests this actually causes them. I don’t really have varicose veins, but I have very visible veins and they are worse in heat, after a run, working on my feet, etc. They become much less visible after I invert.
- Inversions take pressure off your lower joints. Your hips and knees have to carry you around all day long. When you invert yourself, you give them a break and, depending on the pose, make your shoulders do work for a change!
- Yogis say that inversions are good for the lymphatic system and therefore, boost our immunity.
- Some inversions stimulate the thyroid and it is said this helps regulate your metabolism.
And, best of all they are fun! They really do feel great, and are enjoyable to do.
Some inversions are contraindicated. If you have any of the following, you will want to stick to supported bridge and happy baby. You can also modify legs up the wall by propping yourself up on pillows so you you are more v-shaped rather than being flat on your back.
- Second and third trimester of pregnancy
- Uncontrolled high or low blood pressure
- Vertigo or inner ear issues causing dizziness or fainting
- Recent eye surgery (really probably any surgery in the past 6 weeks, so check with your doctor)
- Back and neck issues (Check with your care provider. I have neck issues and have no problems with shoulder stand and headstand. Listen to your body.)
- Menstruation (This is totally personal. The old yoga books say to avoid inversions when menstruating, but let’s remember these were written by men who said women should be sequestered when menstruating. I personally do not enjoy inversions during the heaviest time of my period, but some women say it makes them feel better. You decide. Your body, your choice, sister.)
You can do an inversion first thing in the morning to get you going, at the start or end of a yoga practice, or at the end of a long day. For most of them, you don’t want to stay inverted for more than two minutes, but I will do legs up the wall for 10-20 minutes at a time!
Most gentle inversions. These ones will be appropriate for almost anyone, including those with any of the contraindications listed above, but still, be sure to check with your care provider and if you ever feel pinching, pain, tingling or numbness, come out of the pose. You can stay in these postures longer. Try for a minute at first and then increase for five minutes or more.
Happy baby/Ananda Balasana
Supported bridge/Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (This can be done, as shown, with the block on the low, mid or high level depending on your back.)
Legs up with block/Viparita pari and legs up the wall/Viparita pari
More intense inversions. These can be done by a beginner to advanced practitioner without any contraindicated conditions. These can be done for 2-3 minutes, but usually no more than five is recommended.
Plough/Halasana and shoulder stand/Salamba Sarvangasa
Crow/Bakasana and tripod half-head stand
Most intense. These are the most advanced and one should build one’s practice up to them and gradually increase the amount of time spent in them. I highly encourage practicing them both against the wall. You do not want to jump or kick into headstand; Do it slowly and with control. Once you can get into a headstand, work on 30-second increments. Definitely don’t do more than five minutes, but two minutes is sufficient. While many people (myself included) kick into handstand, the more control you have and the more core strength the better, so that you can lift into it (ah, one day…). If you can do a handstand for five minutes, you are super human and I bow to you. I do handstands for about five seconds. lol.
Head stand/Salamba Sirsasana (I’m working on getting more vertical on these and playing with going down into a pike and back up.)
Hand stand/Adho Mukha Vrksasana
This is definitely a work in progress for me!
Using props. The most obvious prop for these is the wall. There are other ways, however, to get upside down without being on your head, hands or neck. There is the yoga stool (looks cool, but I have never tried it) and yoga trapeze (I own one, but turns out, I was not allowed to hang it up in my apartment!) There are some pretty hilarious videos about the trapeze if you are feeling a bit mean girl.
I have practiced in studios with straps and ropes bolted to the wall and you can hang out in those. Inversion tables take all the asana out of it and just invert you. You can actually do an inversion like by supporting your arms on two chairs facing one another and you hanging between them. I can’t get into this on my own, so just google some pics.
Counter pose. Be sure to counter pose each of these. Examples of counter pose are knees to chest, fish, child’s pose, resting warrior.
Fish (below left) is the best counter pose for bridge, plow and shoulder stand. Because your throat is compressed in the inversion, fish opens it up and this is said to stimulate the thyroid and regulate metabolism. Make sure your head is on the floor or a block in fish rather than hanging, tugging on your neck.
Head stands should always be followed by child’s pose or resting warrior (below right).
Seated or supine twists are good counter poses for all of these.
Typically, I do an inversion at the end of a practice, followed by the counter pose, knees to chest, supine twists and finish with savasana
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