Inversion poses involve any asanas (or poses) that lift the feet above the head. Some common poses include shoulderstand (salamba sarvangasana), headstand (salamba shirshasana), plow pose (halasana) and legs-up-the-wall (viparita karani). You can also learn progressions for these poses as you build up your practice.
Yoga master B.K.S. Iyengar believes that inversions allow the body to purge impurities, which facilitates strength, firmness, calmness and clarity of mind. Also in yoga, Ayurveda promotes the regular practise of inversions based upon the theoretical concept that many of the impurities in our body are held in the lower abdominal area. When you invert the body and raise your feet above your head, you allow gravity to move these impurities towards our agni (fire), which is located in our digestive tract (just above our lower abdomen). By allowing these impurities (which were previously stuck) to move to your agni (which will burn them off), you’ll be able to breathe deeper and improve your health.
In yoga, the benefits of inversions are based on the principles of opposite process and the concept that inversions provide a way of looking at the world from a different physical viewpoint to facilitate a different perspective. Inversions alter the flow of cerebral spinal fluid, and allow blood to drain from the lower body to allow fresh blood to cycle throughout the tissues and organs of the body. There are numerous benefits to a regular inversion practice, and the top six benefits of include:
1. Glowing skin
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.
2. Natural anti-depressant
Inversions literally turn your frown upside down. Flushing the adrenal glands stimulates the release of neurotransmitters and endorphins that allow you to immediately feel uplifted and can counteract depression, mood swings and seasonal affective disorder.
3. Boost your brain
When the brain lacks a sufficient supply of blood, the body becomes slow and sluggish because the brain uses 25 percent of the body’s oxygen. Increasing blood flow nourishes brain cells with more oxygen resulting in improved concentration, memory and awareness.
4. Aid digestion
When you invert your body you allow the stool that is moving from the ileocecal valve through the ascending colon to move with the force of gravity. The pressing of the stool against the intestinal walls also encourages movement and the pressure on the walls of the digestive tract stimulates a stronger peristalsis (muscle contractions that occur in your digestive tract).
5. Improve immunity
Inversions help to stimulate lymphatic cleansing and drainage which clears toxins from the tissues and plays a vital role in improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the immune system.
6. Promote a sounder sleep
A study conducted by LJ Nose found that EMG activity (a measure of muscle tension) declined by more than 35 percent within 10 seconds of inverting. Muscle tension can contribute to feelings of anxiety as well as insomnia so it’s important to flush it from your body.
Inversions also stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, which produces feelings of relaxation and calmness as well.
Gillian’s Tips for Inversions:
- Keep your weight on the wrists and elbows (never on the head) and avoid locking your chin.
- If you feel your alignment is not quite right, come out of your inversion and then do it again, avoid making adjustments while inverted.
- Start gradually with variations that allow you to build up strength and flexibility. You can try using a wall for support at first.
- I love practising inversions because they not only allow me to shift my perspective but they also connect me back with my inner child. While my children have taught me many lessons in the four years since I’ve had them, perhaps the most important is to keep trying. Children place no judgment or preconceived notions on what they are attempting — they learn to walk only after falling countless times. Keep this mind as you incorporate inversions into your routine — what you see from this view on your mat will definitely shift how you perceive your world.
Cautions and considerations
Although inversions have many health benefits, the ability of an individual to receive those benefits depends as much on your capacity to comfortably perform the postures, with proper warm up and preparatory postures. If you are experiencing neck pain or injuries, glaucoma, high or low blood pressure, hernias, back pain, headaches, diarrhea or asthma you should avoid inversions. For women who are menstruating, avoid inversions during the heaviest days of your period.
What’s your favourite inversion pose? Tell us in the comment section below.
Ange Peters (@Hol_Fit), founder of hol-fit.com, is a holistic personal trainer, nutritionist and mama of two. She makes glowing health accessible to people worldwide through innovative web teaching and creative connection. Gillian Mandich (@gillianmandich) is a PhD student in health and rehabilitation science with a focus on childhood obesity and physical activity. She’s a holistic nutritionist, certified yoga and Yoga Tune Up instructor and personal trainer. Together you can find them on Twitter, iTunes, Stitcher and/or their blog.