FLIP YOUR WORLD AROUND
You’ve likely seen fancy images on social media of advanced yoga practitioners standing on their forearms, pressing up into a single handed handstand or doing a crazy gymnast-like routine that makes you dizzy to even contemplate it. Yes, inversions are cool. Yes, they look impressive. Yes, they are often a source of inspiration to yogi’s who love the idea of being able to utilize their physical body to create such outstanding acts of strength. However, aside from the instagram likes, what’s so good about inversions? Why practice them? And where to even begin approaching these poses with ease and confidence?
In the world of yoga, there’s something truly magical about turning your world upside-down. Believe it or not, yoga inversions are not new- have been practiced for centuries for their transformative effects on the body, mind, and emotions. When done mindfully and safely, they offer incredible benefits – from the physical strength they build to the mental clarity they provide. Whether you’re a beginner or an advanced practitioner, there’s actually no reason why you can’t begin to incorporate inversions into your yoga practice. Here’s where to start.
What is a yoga inversion anyway?
A yoga inversion is a pose where the practitioner’s head is positioned below the heart. This fundamental yoga practice involves balancing the body in a way that defies gravity, typically achieved by lifting the legs and torso upward while supporting the body on the hands, forearms, or head. Let’s start by looking at the benefits of yoga inversions:
Physical Benefits of Yoga Inversions
Many people seem to be most interested in inversions for the physical benefits they offer including:
- Strength and Stability: Inversions require a significant amount of strength and stability. Holding your body upside-down engages various muscle groups, particularly the core, shoulders, and arms. Consistent practice of inversions can lead to improved overall strength and balance.
- Enhanced Circulation: Inversions encourage blood flow in the opposite direction, aiding the circulation of oxygenated blood to the brain and vital organs. This improved circulation can boost energy levels and overall vitality.
- Improved Posture: Inversions help align the spine, promote better posture, and relieve tension in the neck and shoulders. Over time, this can lead to better everyday posture and reduced risk of back and neck pain.
- Lymphatic System Activation: The lymphatic system, which plays a crucial role in immune function, relies on muscular contractions to move lymphatic fluid through the body. Inversions stimulate these contractions, helping to detoxify the body and strengthen the immune system.
Mental Benefits of Yoga Inversions
The good news is, inversions are limited only to physical benefits. Like any yoga pose, the benefits are multifaceted and also have positive effects on your mental and emotional body:
- Stress Reduction: Practicing inversions can induce a state of relaxation by triggering the parasympathetic nervous system, which counteracts the stress response. Inversions can provide a sense of calm and mental clarity, making them excellent tools for stress management.
- Enhanced Concentration: Inversions demand focus and concentration to maintain balance and alignment. Regular practice can improve your ability to concentrate whilst practicing, but also in your daily life too.
- Increased Confidence: Conquering the fear of going upside-down can boost self-confidence. It’s a reminder that you’re capable of achieving what may initially seem impossible. While hard at first, with practice, you’ll find you can work towards advanced poses at your own rate.
- Mental Reset: Inversions offer a fresh perspective, both literally and figuratively. They can help you see situations from a different angle and approach challenges with a more open mind.
Emotional Benefits of Yoga Inversions
- Improved Mood: The rush of blood to the brain during inversions can stimulate the release of endorphins, the body’s natural mood-enhancing chemicals. This can leave you feeling uplifted and happier after an inversion practice- a great bonus!
- Overcoming Fear and Trusting Yourself: Many people have a fear of going upside-down. Confronting and conquering this fear in a safe and controlled environment can lead to a sense of accomplishment and self-trust, which can extend beyond the yoga mat and into your daily life.
- Emotional Release: Inversions can sometimes bring up emotions as you challenge yourself and your limits. This can lead to emotional release and healing, allowing you to let go of stress and tension and find a greater sense of freedom within.
Common Inversion Asana Poses for Beginners and Advanced Practitioners
Good news, as mentioned at the beginning of this article, inversions don’t have to mean standing on your head. Rather, an inversion is ANY pose where your heart is below your head. Here’s some simple ways you can experience the benefits of inversions and work your way towards more advanced options:
- Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana): This mild inversion is a staple in yoga practice. Begin on your hands and knees, then lift your hips toward the ceiling, forming an inverted “V” shape with your body. It’s an excellent pose for building upper body strength and increasing flexibility.
- Legs Up the Wall (Viparita Karani): This gentle inversion involves lying on your back with your legs extended up against a wall. It’s a relaxing pose that helps reduce stress, improve circulation, and relieve tired legs.
- Dolphin Pose (Ardha Pincha Mayurasana): Similar to Downward-Facing Dog, but with your forearms on the ground and your head hanging freely. Dolphin Pose builds shoulder strength and prepares you for more advanced inversions.
- Bridge Pose (Setu Bandhasana): Although not a full inversion, Bridge Pose involves lifting your hips off the ground while keeping your feet and shoulders grounded. It strengthens the spine, glutes, and legs and can serve as a precursor to more advanced inversions.
For Advanced Practitioners:
When you feel pretty confident on your yoga mat, you can start off with more advanced inversion work. A good tip is to start these with a wall behind you to break your fall if you do happen to topple over- which is part of the learning process!
- Headstand (Sirsasana): This iconic inversion requires balancing on your head, with your arms and shoulders supporting your body. It strengthens the core, improves balance, and enhances concentration. It’s crucial to learn this pose under the guidance of an experienced instructor to ensure safety.
- Handstand (Adho Mukha Vrksasana): A challenging pose where you balance on your hands, often against a wall. Handstands demand upper body strength, core stability, and advanced balance skills. Practitioners should have a solid foundation in yoga and handstand training.
- Forearm Stand (Pincha Mayurasana): In this inversion, you balance on your forearms with your legs extended upward. It builds shoulder strength and requires a strong core and good balance.
- Shoulderstand (Sarvangasana): An intermediate to advanced inversion, Shoulderstand involves lifting your legs and torso so that your body is perpendicular to the ground. It offers numerous benefits for the thyroid gland and improves circulation.
Remember, safety is paramount when practicing inversions, especially the advanced ones. It’s advisable to learn these poses under the guidance of a qualified yoga instructor, and always listen to your body, progressing at your own pace.
Learn inversions at Vikasa!
Good news, we have two Signature Retreats coming up that offer you the chance to explore yoga inversions in a safe environment with expert teachers.
Join Daniel Rama this December 17-23, 2023 for BALANCE, a 7 day retreat that will teach you how to develop a strong, safe and sustainable yoga practice whilst advancing your skills and techniques on the mat. Learn functional tools to support your body and reach yoga asanas with ease, strength and flow. Rama is a master yoga teacher and these skills you will gain will support your practice for many years to come. Come and push your boundaries and discover your true potential both on and off the mat.
Find out all the details and application form here.
Shakti Sarah Bonsall is joining us at Vikasa for MOVE– a 6 night/7 day guided group yoga retreat focused on the concept of movement and mobility, helping you to discover freedom in your own body, both on and off the yoga mat. Join us December 11 – 17, 2023!
This retreat will expose you to something far bigger than any one specific movement discipline. You’ll experience a diverse range of modalities from all different lineages including yoga, hand balancing, meditative states, flexibility, dance, strength and martial arts. You’ll gain tools that will allow you to expand, communicate and integrate who you really are.
Find out all the details and application form here.