Yoga is filled with a vast amount of asanas, all for different health purposes. Beginner yogis and veterans alike can find comfort in an array of asanas ranging from standing, sitting and supine poses to prone poses. There are so many ways to work the body and mind in an intelligent fashion with yoga, and inversions are yet another category of poses. An inversion can be defined as any asana in which your head is below your heart, in other words, upside down.
Examples of inversions include headstand, shoulder stand, handstand, forearm stand, plow pose, downward-facing dog, legs-up-the-wall pose and standing forward bend. Inversions are everywhere in a well-rounded yoga practice, and for good reason; they boast a plethora of benefits.
Inversions and Anxiety-Relief
Inversions are known to relieve anxiety. If you want proof of this, take five minutes to practice legs-up-the-wall pose whenever you begin feeling anxious. Shoulder stand is another example of an inversion that almost instantly calms both your mind and nervous system. These two asanas are yours to turn to whenever anxiety rushes in. (Read more in 3 Ways to Stop Anxiety With Yoga.)
Inversions for Energetic Support
Other inversions are energizing in nature. Headstand, forearm stand and handstand all invigorate and revitalize. When you go upside down, you get more blood flowing to your brain, which increases circulation while revving things up. After a practice of inversions, most yogis feel ready to take on the day's tasks in a brighter mood. (Read on in What's a Good Energizing Yoga Sequence?)
Inverted poses also boost the immune system's function. They stimulate your lymphatic system, which is directly linked to the immune system. The lymphatic system helps the body with detoxification, so every time you place your head below your heart in an inverted asana, you’re aiding your body’s natural ability to detoxify. So, if you want to alleviate your chances of getting sick, up the inversion ante.
Strengthen Your Core With Inversions
When you hold yourself up in handstand, shoulder stand, forearm stand or headstand, you are naturally strengthening your core muscles. It takes a healthy core to stay balanced in one of these challenging poses, and the more you practice, the stronger your core stability will become. (Learn more in 6 Tips to Maintaining Balance on the Mat.)
Build Confidence With Inversions
This may sound strange, but being upside down actually helps build confidence. Why? Because being upside down can be scary - it changes your perspective. It’s uncomfortable and unlike the norm. But once you nail a handstand---wow! You feel good about yourself for conquering such a challenging posture. You see just how you’re able to handle challenges, which makes other trials of life naturally less daunting. (Read more in Vulnerability & Bravery.)
Gather a New Perspective
Yoga is all about broadening the mind, expanding it and seeing things from more enlightened (and sometimes unconventional) perspectives. When you get your head below your heart, your world is turned upside down, literally. We all need to expand our horizons and see all sides of things. Inversions help us do just this. (Learn more in How do I Shift My Perspective?)
Tap into Your Inner Child
Inversions are playful poses. They’re lighthearted and remind us to not to take ourselves too seriously. Sometimes, we get so bogged down by the seriousness of life and the seriousness of our internal dramas. Then we get wrapped up in the more serious philosophies of yoga. But getting upside down remedies all that. The physical practice of yoga asana can, and should, be fun! Yoga is a time to drop dramas and competition. It’s a time to be free of all that seriousness. Whenever you begin feeling too drained by the seriousness of life, get upside down. See if a smile brightens and lightens things up a bit.
Age Gracefully Through Inversions
Inversions are likened to fountains of youth. One reason why inversions are key to longevity is because turning upside down gives your heart a break. It doesn’t have to do all the work it does when sitting upright. Lung health is another reason. Many believe that inversions have a positive effect on lung tissue, because they ventilate the upper lobes of the lungs, and your oxygen-to-blood exchange gets a healthy upgrade. As with all exercise practices, it's always best to proceed with the advice of a qualified medical professional if experiencing medical conditions, as advanced practices like inversions may cause injury, and a medical professional can better determine how inversions may affect the systems of the individual body. (Learn more in How to Safely Practice a Headstand.)
Take Inversions Slow
Inversions are both challenging and alluring. It’s easy to get caught up in their intrigue. Just remember that they can cause injury if done incorrectly. So go slow and be patient with yourself. It’s far too easy to get carried away, flinging yourself upside down before you’re ready. This competitive edge is rampant through our culture, which makes injuries all too likely. So, get into the Eastern frame of mind and drop the expectations. Let all notions of “mastery” go, and get comfortable with the journey. It’s all about the process anyway, not the destination. (Read more in How to Be More Mindful.)
Inversions and Clarity of Mind
One of the best boons of inversions is their ability to clear the mind. How does this work? When you’re upside down, fresh oxygen floods your brain, sweeping out cobwebs and mental fog. When you’re feeling confused and mentally out of sorts, ease yourself into shoulder stand or legs-up-the-wall pose. If you’re doing the latter, try staying in the pose for a good 10 minutes. Notice how your mind begins to clear and how much of that confusion dissipates as you slowly come out of the posture.
Yoga is amazingly effective in that way, for both the body and mind! Inversions are yet another fascinating part of the practice. Pay them more attention and practice them often, now that you know just how good they are for your body, mind, and spirit!