Week 5: Introduction to inversions
The definition of an inversion is any asana that positions the head below the heart (e.g. downward dog) or the feet above the heart (e.g. headstand / shoulderstand). The benefits of inversions are vast, for example Shoulderstand is thought to promote good blood circulation, calm the nerves by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system, decrease depression and anxiety symptoms, ease fatigue, and improve immune function. Therefore inversions should be considered a crucial component of any yoga practice. The benefits of inversions include:
Strength – Inversions like Shoulderstand, Headstand, Handstand and Forearm Balance strengthen the arms, legs, back and core abdominal muscles. They teach us the principle of “drawing into the mid-line” – this can be really helpful for improving our standing postures
Circulation – Going against gravity helps venous return (the de-oxygenated blood going through your veins back to the heart). Venous return relies on muscular movement and gravity to move the blood. Inversions (and aerobics) give it a helping hand, improving circulation. At the same time you are also helping the flow of oxygenated blood to the brain, sensory organs and the face. Helping the flow of blood and oxygen to your brain also helps with concentration and memory.
Lymph flow –We can think of the lymphatic system as the sewage system of the body. Lymph picks up toxins, excess proteins and bacteria and carries them to the lymph nodes to be eliminated. Like with venous return our bodies rely on gravity and muscular action to move the lymph so inversions can help us to flush the system.
Nervous system – Inversions also have an effect on the nervous system. Headstand and Handstand are energizing: stimulating the nervous system and creating heat in the body. For this reason they are often followed by Shoulderstand and Legs up the wall pose which are more cooling and relaxing for the nervous system. These last two poses are great if you are suffering from too much stress or have insomnia.
Psychological benefits –Working up towards inversions requires humility and perseverance. We learn to fall out of a pose and to get back up again. Try not to be too hard on yourself, laugh and have fun in the process! Once you “make it” upside down, inversions are great confidence boosters. Every time you become a little stronger or you get to the next phase, these poses have the ability to remind you of your greatness :-). Remember the benefits are there for you no matter what stage you are at.
For many people the thought of inversions can trigger a fear response! It’s not surprising, for most people going upside down does not come naturally. The road to a perfectly balanced Headstand is usually paved with a few falls along the way.
When we go upside down, the world appears to be inverted. Here even the simplest movements can be confusing as we experience this opposite and unfamiliar relationship to gravity. This shift in perspective and neuromuscular awareness creates an opportunity to further expand our sense of being in the world while reversing the effects of gravity on the body. It can teach us to get out of our habits and take a break from the norm. The brain is flushed with nourishing blood, the mind clears, the nerves quiet down and everything seems to become more still yet awake, offering a graceful invitation to meditation.
With inversion practice, you will develop more nuanced muscular coordination that adds stability and ease to a variety of other asanas. Take a free class focussing on shoulderstand!