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Inversions – turning things upside down

Trusting, letting go and turning things upside down often seems a little scary, but like most things once we move through the initial fear and hesitation of the minds limitations, we open to a whole array of new experiences.

Just as the practice of yoga encourages us to move further away from our old habits and comfort zones, inviting us to examine things differently – inversions are a great way to challenge ourselves physically, mentally and emotionally and view the world from a new perspective.

So  what exactly defines an inversion? Typically an inversion is any posture where the head is below the heart.  While handstands, forearm stands and other variations may spring to mind there are a number of accessible and gentler inverted poses (including downward dog, half bridge, and legs up the wall) for those newer to yoga or wanting a more restorative practice.

Although the benefits of inversions are huge, when including inversions into our yoga practice it’s essential we learn the correct set up and alignment of each posture to ensure we receive the maximum benefits and most importantly prevent injury, especially on the back and neck.  If you have a history of high blood pressure, heart problems or have had a neck or spinal injury – practicing inversions with caution under the assistance of a yoga teacher is recommended.

There are also differing opinions on women practicing inversions during their moon days. My general recommendation is to avoid practising more dynamic inverted postures during the first few days of a women’s menstural cycle, as turning the body upside down goes against the body’s natural rhythms during this time.  In saying this – no one knows your body like you do so most importantly listen to your body and tailor your practice to how you feel, and to how you feel best.

10 reasons why turning upside down is not only fun, but also very good for the health and vitality of your body and mind.

  • Improves circulation and brain activity – flushing refreshed blood and nutrients around the whole body, especially the brain.
  • Gives the heart a break – as the heart is constantly working to pump blood upward towards the brain, inversions assist in the flow of blood to the brain, with little work from the heart.
  • Improves immunity – inversions help to stimulate lymphatic cleansing and drainage which assists in clearing toxins from the body.
  • Stimulates the nervous system – increasing mental alertness and clarity.
  • Natural antidepressant – flushing the adrenal glands stimulating the release of endorphins.
  • Glowing skin – by reversing the flow and ageing force of gravity, new oxygen stimulates the capillaries in the skin and face.
  • Increases the digestive fire – aiding the digestive and elimination process.
  • Energises the body – increasing core strength and improves posture.
  • Calms the mind – relieving stress, assisting with better seep patterns.
  • Builds confidence – and most importantly can be lots of fun

General tips for practicing inversions safely:

  • Practice safely and mindfully.  Start gradually with variations that allow you to build up strength and flexibility. Try using a wall for support to begin before freestanding.
  • Be aware of your body in alignment.  If you feel like your alignment is not quite right, come out of your inversion first, make the adjustments and then come back into the pose. Avoid making adjustments while inverted.

1. Downward Dog – Ardho Mukha Svanasana

  • Begin in Childs Pose, reaching both hands forward, tucking the toes under, pressing evenly into the hands and feet – lifting your hips up towards the sky.
  • Spreading the fingers, press the hips back, reaching the chest towards the thighs, maintaining a long spine.
  • Check in with the hands and feet – make sure they’re hip width apart, relax the neck, looking back towards the thighs.
  • Try lifting one leg high to the sky, repeat other side.
  • To come out, lower the knees down and press back into Childs Pose.

2. Supported Shoulder Stand – Salamba Sarvangasana

  • Lie down on your back with arms alongside your body, and bring knees into your chest nice and slowly, taking care not to swing the legs quickly up.
  • With legs either bent or straight, lift your hips and reach your feet toward the floor behind your head.
  • Interlace your fingers with arms straight on the ground, and squeeze your shoulder blades and elbows close together.
  • Bend your elbows and support your middle back with your palms, fingers facing up. Either one at a time or together, lift your legs up vertical, gently pressing your knees and ankles together.
  • To come out, use the core to extend the legs, slowly lowering down, rolling down the spine with the legs close to the torso.
  • In Shoulder Stand ensure the neck is always looking ahead, never turn your head whilst in the pose.

Knee to Ear Pose – Karnapidasana

  • Knee to ear pose is practiced following Shoulder Stand. With your legs straight up to the sky, keep your torso vertical and tip from the hips lowering the tips of your toes to the floor.
  • Either keep your toes curled on the floor or straighten them so the tops of your toes are in contact with the ground. Lift your hipbones up high to the sky and straighten your legs rolling the inner thighs towards each other.
  • Release your hands from your upper back and extend them in the opposite direction as your legs. Roll your shoulders under even more and place your palms flat on the ground or clasp your hands together. Press your arms firmly into the ground to help you lengthen your tail even further upwards to the sky.
  • Let your knees fall on either side of your head so that your knees touch the ground in front of your shoulders.
  • To come out, use the core to extend the legs, slowly lowering down, rolling the spine down with the legs close to the torso.

3. Supported Headstand – Salamba Sirsasana

  • Begin on your hands and knees in Table Top position, bring  your forearms to the mat so that your fingers wrap around the elbow of the opposite arm, interlace your fingers tucking your bottom little finger inside the cup formed by your hands, creating a stable, sturdy platform.
  • Tuck your toes under, lean forward and press strongly through the arms and shoulders as your shoulders press away from the ears and slide down the back.
  • As your shoulders come away from the ears the head slightly lifts off of the ground to ensure the weight isn’t on the head.
  • Engage the stomach muscles and straighten your legs to lift the hips high and walk the feet forward until your torso is nearly perpendicular to the floor
  • Start by bending one knee in, squeezing it into your chest.
  • Bring your hips forward and tilt just enough to lift the second foot off the ground.
  • Try to balance with one knee into the chest, and the other foot off the ground.  Eventually you’ll squeeze both knees in and lift with the legs squeezing together.
  • It’s the strength of the upper body along with squeezing the legs, pointing the toes, and keeping the body tight and firm that creates the control, which in turn creates the balance.
  • To come out, engage the core and slowly lower your toes down to the mat and rest in Childs Pose.

4. Fish Pose – Matsyasana (variation pictured)

  • Begin by lying on your back. work the hands next to your body with the palms facing down.
  • Press your elbows into the floor to lift your head up, moving the elbows closer together.
  • Expand the chest and arch your back to lower the crown of your head towards the mat.
  • Continue pressing the elbows into the mat, lifting your sternum up towards the ceiling.
  • To come out, important to lift your head to look at your feet first, then roll the body down slowly.

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