Yoga Inversions can be a hot topic to a new yogi.
Although headstand and handstand may immediately come to mind when you hear the word inversion, you might be
surprised to learn that child’s pose, down dog, rag doll, and bridge are inversions, too. You are inverted anytime your head is below your heart. Inversions are a critical aspect of any yoga practice. And here’s why:
Yoga Inversion Benefits
1. Circulation: Gravity is responsible for so much damage to our systems. 60% of your body is made up of water. Gravity actually pulls tissues and water downward. In order to return oxygen back to the heart, the heart basically has to work harder. Being upside down reverses blood flow and the result is that the heart doesn’t work as hard.
According to David Coulter, Ph.D., professor at the University of Minnesota who wrote in a 1992 Yoga International article on Headstands and the Circulatory System: “If you can remain in an inverted posture for just 3 to 5 minutes, the blood will not only drain quickly to the heart, but tissue fluids will flow more efficiently into the veins and lymph channels of the lower extremities and of the abdominal and pelvic organs, facilitating a healthier exchange of nutrients and wastes between cells and capillaries.”
2. Lymphatic System: The lymphatic system is a key part of your immune system. This system relies on movement and pressure to move the lymph fluid. Gravity again is a part of it, and inversions help encourage the flow of the fluid back to the heart. Mirah Wall talks about how, in a Yoga Journal article, lymph moves as a result of muscle contractions and gravity, getting upside down allows lymph to more easily travel into the respiratory system where much of the toxins enter the body.
3. Confidence: The first time you accomplish a pose like a handstand there’s no other feeling like it. The rush of accomplishing something you didn’t think possible energizes you and builds your confidence.
4. Balance: We are not normally upside down. When you do inversions, you add a dimension to your body’s movement. The moment I started yoga I paid attention to my body in many ways, maybe flexibility was not my thing, but I learned I am stronger than I knew. I learned how to know my weaknesses, and how to adjust and improve in every way. Balance in inversions taught me to sense my body in a different way. Try doing eagle pose at the beginning of class and end of class. You will see the difference.
5. Core: Let’s face it our posture sucks. We lean over desks, phones, tablets, computers and kids all day. Fitness instructors often talk about strengthening our core. Its impossible to be lazy when you are upside down. You cannot let your core sag even if you tried.
6. Focus: It’s really hard not to focus when you are trying to balance your body while upside-down. It actually calms the nervous system. The yoga journal talks of how “Inversions may also affect the movements of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), the juice of the central nervous system which flows from the brain to the spinal cord. The top of the skull receives intense pressure in headstand, which, when properly done, may promote elasticity in the cranial bones, thus stimulating the production of CSF in the ventricles of the brain.”
7. Hormones: This is my favorite benefit because who doesn’t want their metabolism to improve. The effect of inversions on the intricate endocrine system, the body’s glandular system of hormone delivery, has been much touted. “Shoulder stand is widely recommended for menopausal and perimenopausal women because it is assumed that it stimulates the thyroid and parathyroid glands, which secrete hormones that regulate one’s metabolism.” Payne assumes that inverting places these glands, located in the upper chest, in a “general bath of blood,” thus increasing their efficiency.
8. Presence & Detachment: Inversions are humbling. They are tough to learn and society has taught us that gratification should come instantly. Let your ego go and be humble. It’s not about nailing the pose or doing some complicated variation of the pose. It’s about being in the moment and knowing that you can’t just use random momentum to find your way upside-down. Well I suppose you could, but that isn’t where you will safely gain the benefits physically or mentally.
9. New Perspective: Every time you google inversions you’ll read about how it gives you new perspective. To be honest, that can get old when you are learning them. What are they really talking about? Do you remember being a kid, spinning around to just lay down and look at the spinning clouds. Or when you would try to watch tv with your head hanging upside down and your mother would yell at you that you were going to get sick. Kids aren’t afraid to look at things differently. Adults learn to create barriers. I think flipping yourself on your head provides you with a new physical perspective that translates off my mat and makes me see things new in every day life.
10. FUN: See for youself!
Do not be afraid of inversions, try them. Take every pose seriously, and remember, just like anything, there is risk. Yoko Yoshikawa teaches lyengar-based yoga in Oakland, California and stresses to students to “realize that intention and focus are more important than throwing the self into poses. Practiced without wisdom and compassion, inversions can lead to injury. But at their best, these poses sing up the spine and the body hums with joy. Headstand and Shoulder stand are known as the king and queen of the asanas—and they can be rather cavalier with their subjects’ necks. Be smart but undaunted: They grant great boons to those who approach with respect.”
Modern Yoga wants to help you establish all the parts of yoga as beneficial and we want to take your questions and concerns seriously. So whatever that pose is that is giving you trouble ask your teacher. After class, send an email, we are here for you to realize yoga is more than just exercise but a practice and way of life.