We all have different reasons for getting on our mats but our reasons tend to lie within the vicinity of: to feel good, to have fun, and to put time and dedication into our health. Of course downward dogs, warriors, and triangles will leave you feeling fresh, alive, and able, but to continue on your yoga journey inversions are simply a must!
Although using your own strength to hold yourself upside down initially seems daunting, a deeper delve into “inversions” illuminates that there is an inversion for everyone, and inversions are a wonderful idea! An inversion is simply a pose where your head is below your heart. There is a plethora of inversion options to add into your yoga practice, from beginner poses to advanced variations. As the reasons below outline, adding inversions into your practice is beneficial physically, mentally, and emotionally. The trifecta! And if you practice an upside-down pose every day, soon your core and upper body will be strong enough to move onto more advanced options.
Physically, inversions reverse the work of gravity. Keeping your heart above your head for a temporary increment of time can clear the sinuses and lungs, and by stimulating the intestinal tract regulate a healthy metabolism. Additionally, with persistence you will build upper body strength from holding yourself, and core strength from balancing. They are also, of course, great for circulation.
Inversions offer mental benefits that include curing and/or alleviating negative habits that our brains may develop. They have been known to cure minor depression by stimulating the thyroid, and to reduce anxiety by stimulating the adrenal glands and reducing the release of cortisol (the stress chemical!) Additionally they facilitate the flow of blood, meaning oxygen, to your brain so your thoughts are more lucid and organized.
In some ways the most all-encompassing and important reason to consider inversions a staple in your practice: The emotional. Trying new things is thrilling and makes you brave! Every time you decide to venture into the uncharted or pursue a challenge, no matter the size, you are building emotional strength and teaching yourself to approach life with excitement and curiosity, rather than fear. You will prove to yourself that with persistence and patience, you can do anything. And who knows, inversions might be the next big thing that make you look forward to getting out of bed in the morning!
Shoulder Stand (a great inversion for beginner levels)- Lie on your back with hands at your sides. Press your hands into the floor and bring your knees to a bent position. Keep your thighs together, roll your weight back, and lift, so that your feet and hips come off of the floor. Bring your hands to support your torso and bring your hips to stack above your shoulders. Engage your core and try to get your torso perpendicular to the floor.
Tucked Tripod Headstand (an inversion for all levels)- Kneel and place the top of your head on the floor. Place your hands in a location where they are easily visible. Lift hips and keep shoulders pushing away from the head. Bring one leg at a time to rest on top of arms, as close to the arm pits as possible. When you are steady and balanced, engage the core and lift so you are in a tucked position. If you are ready to take it further, keep your core engaged and extend your legs towards the sky.
Supported Headstand (an inversion for all levels)- Kneel, lace your fingers together, place your forearms on the floor, and place your head nestled in your hands. Stack your hips above your head by walking your feet closer. Engage your core. Either lift one leg straight above your head and with control bring the other to meet it, or bring both legs up at the same time. This inversion is great to practice against a wall to learn control and balance.
Headstand variation with eagle legs (a challenging inversion that takes significant core strength)- Kneel and place the crown of your head on the floor. Bring the forearms together and place hands outward with fingers splayed wide and strong. First practice balancing with both knees resting on your arms. (This position may take getting used to.) When you can comfortably balance, slowly and with control bring both legs up by engaging your core. If desired, wrap one leg around the other for eagle legs. Be sure to do both sides!
Remember to always approach your practice with respect for your body’s needs with an awareness for physical sensations.
Now go invert yourself!
Related: Finding Balance with Inversions
Photo: Anastasia Bailey