There are so many asanas — poses — in the practice of yoga that you could spend your entire life trying to master them all. There’s one series of poses that everyone wants to try, but they can intimidate even the most seasoned yogi — inversions. Headstands, handstands, forearm stands, things that you probably haven’t tried since you were a child, but all of these poses can have fantastic benefits. Why should you be including yoga inversions in your flow?
They’re Not All Handstands
First, a quick note. Inversions are not all handstands and headstands. While those might be your end goal, inversions are any pose where your head is below your heart. That means every time you move into a downward dog or standing forward fold, you’re completing an inversion. Even Bridge Pose, which you complete while lying on your back, is considered an inversion because your head is below your heart. Standing on your head might look amazing, but it isn’t the only thing you can do if you want to start practicing yoga inversions.
They Reduce Back Pain
Inversion therapy has been a popular option for treating chronic back pain for centuries. It was actually invented by Hippocrates — yes, the guy they named the Hippocratic Oath after — around 400 BC. It works on the theory that by getting upside down — getting your feet above your head — you can reverse the effects of gravity on the body, reducing the impact of back pain.
They Lower Blood Pressure
If you are fighting with high blood pressure, inversions can be a great tool to help you reduce the pressure naturally. When you’re in an inversion, you’re increasing the blood pressure in your head and neck. By introducing inversions slowly over time, you can strengthen these vessel walls, just like any other muscle. Start with small inversions like forward folds and downward dog before you start incorporating more advanced moved like headstands.
They Improve Circulation
Gravity makes it challenging for the blood in your veins to return to your heart and lungs to be reoxygenated. While not impossible, getting upside down helps to reverse the effects of gravity, making it easier for the blood in your lower limbs to return to your heart. These inverted positions also make it easier to get oxygenated blood to your brain upper extremities. It’s a win-win, even if it takes a bit of practice to stay upside-down for any length of time.
They Improve Your Immune System
Lymph, a clear fluid that moves throughout your body, helps to support your immune system by picking up bacteria and viruses and filtering them out of the body. Unlike blood, lymph relies on muscle contractions and gravity to move, so when you spend time in inversions, you help your body’s lymph move into parts of the body that would more difficult for it to reach. Then, when you get upright again, the lymph drains back to your lymph nodes and anything it’s picked up along the way gets filtered out of the body.
They Strengthen Your Core
Those beautiful videos you see of yogis pressing up into the perfect handstand or headstand without having to kick off the floor all have one thing in common — core strength. These moves don’t have anything to do with how strong your legs are. All of that movement is handled by your arms and your core — and those core muscles are constantly engaged to stabilize yourself, especially once you start adding more advanced leg positions.
You Learn to Let Yourself Fall
Perhaps the most important benefit of inversions it that they teach you something that, as an adult, you’ve probably forgotten — how to fall. It sounds silly, but if you start practicing more advanced inversions, you will inevitably fall. It’s just part of being upside down when you haven’t attempted it since childhood, but more importantly, it will teach you not to be afraid of falling. If you’re standing on your head, and you try to stop yourself from falling over, you’re going to crunch your neck or knock out a tooth when you fall over anyway. You don’t need a mouthguard for yoga like you might for other sports, though. If you let yourself fall, you’ll find that you land much more softly and you’re ready to get up and try again in no time.
Add an Inversion or Two to Your Flow
Inversions are a great way to add a bit of fun to your yoga flow, but it’s also got a host of health benefits that you might not even realize. Add a few inversions to your yoga flow and see how much better you feel. Remember, you can start small with a downward dog or standing forward fold — anything that puts your head below your heart is considered an inversion.