When we were kids, we spent a good deal of our time upside down –by swinging, doing cartwheels or handstands. Why? Because it felt GOOD. But is it good to continue this topsy turvy practice as we age? Yes! Because inversions do great things for the mind and body. Inversions calm the mind, and also invigorate the body – increasing blood flow and allowing tissue fluids like lymph to flow more efficiently.
Any position where the heart is higher than the head is considered an inversion, and many yoga students regularly practice inversions like headstand, shoulderstand, etc. However, these postures are not always available or safe for many people, especially beginners. Here is a safe alternative. (You can even do this against the wall for more support. See below the modification. )
To come into the posture, lay face up on the floor, on a firm but easy surface – carpet, blanket or yoga mat. Have handy a folded blanket or yoga block. As with any posture, the first step is to come into the moment, by bringing your awareness to your breath and body. Take three easy inhales and exhales. Next, bring the soles of the feet to the floor. Lift the hips, and place the folded blanket or block under you. You should be able to securely rest on the support. Now bring the legs vertical, soles of the feet to the ceiling. Allow the arms to rest at your sides, palms up.
Keep your legs relaxed but active enough to remain vertical. Stay in this position anywhere from 10-20 breaths. To exit, bend the knees and slowly lower the feet to the floor. Lift the hips and remove the support. Rest for three breaths before coming to your seat.
- Nervous system
- Circulatory system
Most inversions offer relief from anxiety, digestive problems, headaches and insomnia. Bringing the legs higher than the heart can also be beneficial for varicose veins and circulation to the lower extremities. Inversions are also calming to the nervous system and increase the flow of blood and lymph.
Inversions should be avoided during menstruation. Also avoid this position if you have any neck injuries or soreness. Inversions should not be done if you have any eye problems, ie. glaucoma. If at any time you feel pressure behind the eyes, or pain in the neck, exit the posture immediately.
Sit with the side of the body close to the wall. Using your hands for support, recline and allow the legs to come up the wall, as the torso moves towards the floor. If the legs need some bend in the knees for comfort, move your buttocks a few inches away and rest the soles of the feet on the wall. Lip the hips and slide your support under the buttocks.
Allow the arms to rest at your sides, palms up. Experiment with the position of your blanket or block until you find the spot that’s right for you. More flexible people may use a higher support; less flexible people will want to remain closer to the floor. Same rules apply regarding tenderness in the neck and pressure behind the eyes.
Stay here for 10-20 breaths. When you’re ready to exit the posture, bend your knees and push your feet against the wall to lift your hips off the block or blanket. Then slide the block or blanket to one side, lower your hips to the floor, and rest to one side. Stay there for a few breaths before returning to your seat.