“An inversion a day keeps the stress at bay,” quips best-selling author Gabrielle Bernstein in her spiritual self-help guide Miracles Now. Guru Bernstein explains that simple yoga inversions—like Headstand, Handstand, Shoulder Stand, or Plow Pose—can help turn your mood around. Whether you’re suffering from anxiety, stress, or plain old mental fog, spending a few minutes upside down can recharge your soul’s battery, provide instant stress relief, and help you conquer the rest of the day with fortitude and grace.
It makes sense—after all, there are several mental, physical, and emotional benefits of inversions. Aside from building core and upper body strength, inversions stimulate the thyroid, which may help alleviate minor depression, as well as the adrenal system, which will help lower levels of cortisol (a.k.a. the dreaded stress hormone). Inversions also improve circulation, thereby sending oxygen to the brain (bye-bye, mental fog!). Enhanced circulation has its own benefits, of course, including: improved digestion and elimination, lymphatic drainage, and blood purification (i.e., full-body detox!).
Moreover, the challenge to balance—even if we’re using the wall for support—encourage us build confidence and trust in our physical (and emotional) strength. Indeed, poses requiring balance help us rekindle our delicate inner balance. As you balance in your pose, you may find yourself lightly swaying while still maintaining the position. This is a nice reminder that through flexibility, we can remain be strong and capable—just like a branch lifted by the breeze. Minor shifts in our environment, though potentially stressful, don’t have to topple us.
If you’re an experienced yogi, you may enjoy Anastasia Bailey’s article on inversions featuring four poses to advance your inversion practice.
If you’re new to yoga, and don’t have any back, neck, or shoulder ailments, you may want to begin with Shoulder Stand:
Start by lying on your back with your hands at your sides. Gradually bring your spine and legs to a vertical position (perpendicular to the ground) while you keep you legs pressed together. Your weight should be on your shoulders rather than your neck. You can support your upper body by pressing your hands against your back, gently pressing your torso away from the floor and into a true perpendicular position. Keeping your torso and legs in a straight line, breath for several rounds or until you’re ready to exit the pose. To safely exit the pose, support your lower back with your hands, then, one foot at a time, bring your feet down to the mat. Once both feet are on the ground, ease your torso and hips down until they reach the mat.
If balance in Shoulder Stand is an issue, you may be interested in Rabbit Pose:
From Child’s Pose, hold the bottoms of your heels with your hands. Rounding your back to the ceiling, bring your forehead to rest on your mat as close to your knees as possible. Inhale, lift your thighs, and carefully roll onto the crown of your head while squeezing your heels. To release, exhale, lower your hips back to your heels, and return to Child’s Pose.
Plow pose: from shoulder stand (above), send your legs carefully over your head and rest the backs of the arms on the mat. To come out of it, gently roll your spine down one vertebra at a time until your leg is perpendicular to the floor, then lower the legs down.
Downward dog – up the wall: This pose is used frequently as a prep to a handstand. It can also be practiced as is for a relaxing, relatively easy inversion. Come into downward dog with your feet right at the wall–you may have to walk your ball of the feet on the molding, depending on your height. From there, walk your feet up the wall until you have 90 degree angle at your hips. Plant your feet firmly into the wall, and press your palms down to the floor, lifting away from your shoulder joints. Enjoy it! This pose might make you smile.
If you’re not quite ready for a full-blown yoga pose, you can try lying on your back with your head tilted off the edge of the bed at an angle that feels comfortable to you. With or without yoga, the point is to get upside down in such a way that helps quickly revitalize your spirit.
Have you tried inversions for stress management?
More yoga poses to try: 5 Poses for a Morning Yoga Routine
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Photo: Melissa Emmons Photography via Flickr, Anastasia Bailey, Peaceful Dumpling