Those of us on Instagram know: Inverted postures are extremely popular! And you probably also know that inversions are definitely challenging. When was the last time you did a handstand? For most, it’s not easy! But inversions are not just another way to impress your peers or show off on social media – guaranteed, ancient yogis weren’t inverting for attention – there are many health benefits to incorporating inversions into your practice.
First step: What is an Inversion?
An inversion is any posture that puts your hips above your heart and your heart above your head. That simple! It can be a downward dog, bridge, dolphin, or legs up the wall pose as well as the more difficult hand & forearm stands or head (Sirsasana) and shoulder (Sarvangasana) stands. All of which are part of a well-balanced practice.
AND Why do an Inversion in the First Place?!
So, we all learned about gravity as children, right? We’re constantly being pulled to the earth – our bodies, organs, fluids, muscles, all of it. Well, ancient yogis used to call gravity the silent, slow killer because that unnoticed constant pull on our lives is hard work for our bodily systems. Studies say that the average human spends 1/3 of their life sleeping – horizontal – and the other 2/3 are spent vertical (upright, feet at the ground of course) then how much time do we give our bodies upside down? Barely no time at all! We can’t even attribute a minute percentage to being inverted because we are so rarely.
Basically, being upside down gives our body a welcomed break from gravity. It reverses the pressure on our skeletal system and muscles, allows for a reversal of blood and fluid flow, and encourages a rejuvenation of nutrient transfers between cells while clearing congestion and inflammation.
Let’s flush and rejuvenate our bodies!
Our hearts are consistently drawing blood up into itself to then pump back out to the body. While inverted, our blood is sent directly to the heart so it doesn’t have to work so hard. The same goes for the lymphatic system. While sending lymph throughout the body to fight infection and support the immune system, being upside down can increase the amount of lymph being sent to the heart and then can be more efficiently distributed through out the body.
On top of building strength, improving balance and focus, and increasing our energy, inversions are also sure to build confidence. Anyone who has accomplished their first pincha knows: It’s exhilarating! But leading up to this confidence boost can also be a very humbling, frustrating experience as we fight our ego and resist the vulnerability that comes along with challenging our bodies physically, but more importantly mentally. Ego is not your amigo and inversions are a sure fire way to release, surrender and reach a fuller expression of your practice.
How Can I Be Better at Getting Upside Down?
Practice, practice, PRACTICE! If you’ve been to an Ashtanga or Rocket class then you’re familiar with inversions as part of a routine series. In either series, a student is encouraged to gradually incorporate inversions into their daily routine. This is both in the Shala and at home during your daily home practice. We can not express enough the importance of practicing outside of the class setting.
Remember balance is unpredictable and you’ll find that some days are easier than others. That’s ok! Breathe, focus, find your drishti and breath some more. If you fall, get back up. There’s absolutely no shame in falling, only in giving up.
As always, use props, make modifications, rely on your teacher to guide and assist you, but NEVER force your body into postures for which you are not yet ready. Listen, be patient and gradually encourage your mind and body to be READY FOR TAKEOFF into those advanced and challenging inverted postures.