I love inversions. Shoulder stand is probably my favorite. There’s something about them that just makes me feel so darn good! I suppose it’s the action of turning upside down—seeing the world from a different perspective.
Not to mention the physical benefits of taking the head below the heart, which is basically how we define inversions—any pose that brings the head below the heart. Think plow pose, shoulder stand, headstand, handstand, bridge pose, downward-facing dog, etc. Their benefits are many, including better lymphatic flow and increased blood circulation to the brain. They’re also said to build self-confidence. Sign me up, please! (Learn more in 10 Benefits of Inversions.)
But, like most postures—especially some of the more advanced ones—we need to learn how to prep for them to prevent injury. Here are a handful of the best ways to prep for inversions.
Do Downward-Facing Dog
As one of the most basic inversions, downward-facing dog is a great way to prep for more inversions. We don’t need much in terms of a warmup before entering down-dog. In many ways, it’s a preparatory pose in and of itself.
Down dog opens and stretches so many parts of the body. Your arms, shoulders, spine, hamstrings, calves, ankles—I could go on and one. All these parts of your body (and more) wake up via downward facing dog pose.
If you’re new to yoga, this pose may not feel like a prep pose. But, the more you practice it, the more it will begin to be both a warm up and a resting pose, while also being one of the best prep poses for more challenging inversions to come. (Learn more in Achieving Your Best Downward-Facing Dog.)
Now that you’ve spent some time in downward facing dog, why not do it some more, while also opening the front and back body through a few rounds of sun salutations? There’s a reason the ancient yogis began their practice with sun salutes. Not only do they welcome the rising sun at dawn, they’re also the perfect way to warm up the entire body.
Sun salutations are a great way to prep for any yoga practice and any yoga pose. Inverted postures are no exception. Sun salutes (also known in Sanskrit as surya namaskar) really open up and develop the shoulders and spine—two necessary prerequisites for inversions. I do sun salutations daily, and I think you should too! (Learn more in Sun Salutation A Versus Sun Salutation B: The Difference You Should Know.)
Strengthen Your Core
You may not realize it, but successful and sustainable inversions require a strong core. Therefore, one of the best ways to prep for inversions is to strengthen your midsection with core-strengthening yoga postures. Boat pose (navasana) is one of the best postures to do so. So is plank pose, side plank, crow pose, and every balancing asana under the sun. (Or try this 15-minute Core Strengthening Sequence.)
You can bring your attention to your core during any posture, for that matter. Even something as seemingly simple as mountain pose can be a prep for inversions when you bring awareness to your core and work to tone it by simply pulling it inward, towards the spine as you stand tall and proud. Practice this in poses that don’t appear to be core-building postures—warrior poses, for example. You’ll soon find out any and every pose can help build your core when you set an intention to do so!
Supported Standing Wide Angle Pose
You can do this pose supported (with a bolster or blankets) or unsupported, depending upon how you feel. If you have a couple blankets you can fold to mimic a yoga bolster, or if you have a bolster itself, use these tools for support. Standing wide angle pose (prasarita padottanasana) is one of the easier inversion postures. As such, it’s a great prep pose for the more advanced inversions.
To do wide angle pose with a bolster or blankets, you’ll simply place your prop beneath your head. Your head gets a nice support while your body gets used to the action of being upside down. Stay in standing wide angle pose for a few minutes. While you’re in it, work on elongating the breath. Deep breathing is an integral part of inversions. You want your breath to stay slow and steady in order to sustain whatever inverted posture you find yourself in. This brings us to the next preparatory tool—your breath.
Because having integrity of breath will help sustain your inversions, pranayama practice is always a good idea. Whatever breathing techniques feel good to you—these are the ones to practice. I like nadi shodhana, deep belly breathing, and the complete yogic breath. The latter is when you breathe for a count of four, hold for a count of four, exhale for a count of four, hold for a count of four, and repeat.
Close your eyes as you practice this to help you focus on your counting as you breathe. Do several rounds and notice how you begin to let go and relax. A pranayama practice such as this one will enhance all your postures, inversions included. (Learn more in Hidden Magic: The Power of Nadi Shodhan Pranayama.)
May you love inversions as much as I do! And if they’re scary at first, you’re not alone. Going upside down is really foreign to our bodies and minds, but with practice, they’ll become as natural as standing upright!