Heart Over Head: Practicing Inversions

Inversions are probably one of the most interesting and difficult types of asana that one can practice in yoga. Thinking about inversions may lead you to think of crazy yogis balancing on their head, hands or forearms, bending into poses that you think are unimaginable! However, not only can you do them but practicing inversions regularly is an extremely beneficial for overall health and wellness.

You may be thinking, “That’s great, but what is an inversion anyway?” Inversions are asanas where the heart is placed higher than the head. They can be gentle such as downward dog, legs up the wall or standing forward bend or they can be heating and advanced like wheel pose, headstand, handstand, forearm stand or shoulder stand.

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There are numerous benefits to practicing inversions, both physical and mental. Physically, one of the largest benefits provided by regularly inverting is increasing blood flow back to the heart and giving the heart a break. As you know, the heart is responsible for pumping blood throughout the body, quite a taxing job! Inverting causes the blood from the lower extremities to flow back into body. Being upside down also improves digestion, drains mucus, benefits the nervous system and increases immunity by reversing the lymphatic system and the movement of lymph in the body (liquid that carries cells that fight infection and disease). The tremendous blood flow to the brain even improves concentration, cognitive function and gives memory a boost all while promoting a calm feeling in the brain. Practicing inversions can strongly benefit the cardiovascular, lymphatic, nervous and endocrine systems by encouraging proper flow throughout all four systems.

As previously mentioned there are two types of inversion; energizing/heating inversions (these tend to be more advanced such as head-, forearm- and handstands) and relaxing/cooling inversions (these are more tame, such as downward dog, happy baby, legs up the wall) and they both benefit the body in different ways. As one can imagine, energizing inversions can give you quite the boost! These advanced inversions increase blood flow to the brain at a faster rate than cooling inversions and can be as effective as an afternoon cup of coffee for a pick-me-up! Relaxing inversions do the opposite, not as many muscles are involved which benefits the nervous system and encourages the parasympathetic nervous system to activate, calming the body and mind. Some of these inversions even massage the thyroid (legs up the wall, plow pose, shoulder stand) which boosts metabolism and boosts thyroid function.

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Inversions, especially advanced inversions, are fantastic at building strength, lengthening the spine and improving balance. It takes an incredible amount of core strength to lift the legs above the head and balancing with the legs in the air greatly improves upper body strength!

Not only are inversions excellent for the physical body, but they’re great for the mind as well because balancing on the head, forearms or hands greatly shifts perspective! You’re literally upside down! Inversions build confidence; nothing feels as good as accomplishing something that you didn’t quite think was possible! Inversions are fun! You’ll fall and struggle, but you’ll find yourself laughing and trying again and again!

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Inversions are an important, entertaining practice but it is crucial to go over a few things before jumping into a handstand! Always check with a Doctor and/or your yoga teacher before starting an inversion practice. Inversions should not be practiced if you’re pregnant or menstruating, have glaucoma, a detached retina, high blood pressure, slipped disc, cardiovascular or kidney disease. However, once you have the go-ahead from a professional the fun can start! While you may see some fun shapes to try on Instagram or in class by your favourite yogis, there is absolutely no shame in starting by a wall! (I learned my headstands, and am working on handstands that way!) Work carefully and move within your own body and your own boundaries. Balance is different from day to day so if you’re falling out of headstand, instead of getting upset move onto a different asana and come back to it tomorrow, they’ll always be there! And remember, most importantly to have fun!

Have you practiced inversions? Do you have a favourite pose? Let me know if you’ll be trying to add some inversions to your practice (or if they’re a regular part of your practice) by leaving a comment below!

Namaste.

(Note: Do not add advanced inversions to your practice without first running it by your Doctor first! They’re fun but safety is always first!)

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