Why practice inversions?

By Cat Enright

When I was a girl, I loved hanging from the monkey bars and reclining back over the swings.  I have always loved going upside down.  In a healthy environment, children intuitively take themselves through a wide range of body postures.

Unfortunately, as adults, we stop doing many things that are good for us and we may become afraid to do them.  Inversions might be one of these things.

Inverting doesn’t have to mean poses that seem risky, like handstands or headstands.  Simply taking your legs up the wall is a relaxing way to get many of the benefits of going upside down. 

What are the benefits?

Because we primarily sit, stand and lie down, blood stagnates in the extremities, especially the feet. By inverting, blood can flow more easily back to the heart to be re-oxygenated.  Inversions also stimulate the immune and endocrine systems. With the reversal of gravitational pull, lymph becomes more available.  The brain and all of the organs benefit by the increase of blood moving “downhill”.  When practiced with healthy alignment, inversions actually release neck and spine tension.

Through the lens of the chakra system, the qualities of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd chakras (stability, creativity, will) move toward the heart and throat, giving energy for self-exploration and speaking one’s truth.  Emotional life can be more balanced.

From the yoga therapy perspective, practicing inversions could support facing fears and taking risks (in a safe environment).  This could mean finding strength in the upper body and learning to support oneself in a new way.  Typically, handstands, elbow balance and headstands are invigorating.  Shoulder stand and Viparita Karani (legs up the wall) are calming.  These last two poses can down-regulate the nervous system, offering soothing support to the brain while still nourishing the heart.

As with all good medicine, we must be thoughtful about when and how to use inversions.  Ask an experienced teacher of inversions for recommendations if you have neck injuries, epilepsy, high blood pressure, heart conditions, or eye problems.  Many people with uteruses avoid inverting when menstruating.   Correct alignment and use of props (as needed) are essential to avoid injury and reap the benefits of inverted poses.

Remember that you can always choose Viparita Karani when your teacher offers an inversion.  When you are ready to explore, you might be surprised by the sweetness and refreshment of spending time upside down.  It could be a delight to see your life from such a different perspective.

Click here to learn more about Cat and see her teaching schedule.

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