Going Upside Down: The Benefits of Inversions

Headstands….

Love or loathe?

Fab or frightening?

Necessary or no-thanks?

Inversions are on one hand, scary, physically challenging and an odd position to put our gravity-friendly bodies into. On the other hand, they are wonderfully refreshing, strengthening and lots of fun.

Inversions have LOADS of benefits. Did you know:

  • Headstands give you a face-lift! By going against gravity, fresh nutrients and oxygen flush to the face. Over time you’ll notice a new glow to your skin.
  • Inversions boost the flow of nutrients and blood flow to the scalp too. Greg hair? No thanks.
  • Being upside down boosts the lymphatic system by speeding up and improving the elimination of toxins from the body.
  • Inversions stimulate the pituitary and hypothalamus glands (vital for well-being, they master the thyroid and adrenal glands). Some say headstands flush out the adrenals so they’re fresher to function ~ definitely a pro for people who suffer from stress, anxiety or burn-out.
  • Once settled into your inversion practice, being upside down has a calming effect on your whole circulation, since it gives it a well-deserved break. The heart doesn’t need to pump up to the brain as vigorously as usual, and in turn, the respiratory system calms down making your breath slower. The Central Nervous System is calmed.
  • Inversions improve circulation in the legs ~ any fluid retained in the feet and legs is encouraged to flow. We’re on our feet so much, so this ensures any stagnant blood flow is encouraged to flow back to the heart for another round of oxygen. Runners, listen up.
  • Headstands strengthen the arms, shoulders and deep core muscles, particularly the obliques, rectus abdominus and transverse abdominus. These muscles are all needed to hold the body in an inverted state; it’s a working pose. You can play with pike legs to further increase the abs-challenge.
  • Mastering an inversion can give you a wonderful sense of achievement. It offers areas of development in your practice and it gives you confidence in what your body can achieve. Mental well-being brownie points.

Headstand

Personally I couldn’t understand my need to master a headstand until I’d mastered it. I quickly realised that being upside down is one of my calmest, most content places to be. My breathing slows, I love that my muscles work together and the blood-rush to the head calms me. There’s nothing to do but breathe and be, and for that reason, I love inversions. If I’ve had a stressful day, if I’ve got a headache or if I’m feeling in any way unsettled/unhappy/mehhh, just give me a mat and see my feet.

Will my practice suffer without Inversions?

Put simply, no.

A headstand doesn’t suddenly make your practice complete. You can lead an entire yogi-life without being fully upside down to absolutely no detriment.

A Downward Facing Dog offers you an inversion, did you know that? Lets-up-the-wall too – the body is reaping inversion benefits already.

There are some yogis that believe that the areas of asana [your physical yoga practice] that you find most challenging are the areas that you should focus on. This works for hamstrings, for example, because if you never work on them your overall asana development will become limited. But going upside down is a more drastic movement. If you find inversions genuinely terrifying and unpleasant, then why ruin your perfectly good practice? I understand that many people don’t like the thoughtful being fully upside down, and that’s ok. Like many experienced yogis say, life won’t suddenly get better when you can perform party tricks. Ultimately, it is your practise, nobody else’s. Inversions aren’t for everyone (if we all loved them, we’d need cleaner streets? 😉 )

Inversions of any kind are not recommended for those suffering from high blood pressure, neck problems, ear or eye issues or experiencing heavy menstruation.

How do I start working towards a Headstand?

Headstands are scary and physically difficult. That said, if you are a person who is curious about inversions, if you are even slightly tempted, you should go for it.

You’ll be surprised at what your body can achieve with the correct guidance.

Start by seeking out guidance from your teacher on correct alignment [Online classes just won’t work for this, in my opinion – you need real-life here!]

Work on poses that will help you build strength in the arms, shoulders, abs and core. Think tiny support muscles, as well as the bigger ‘cosmetic’ muscles.

Ask about postures that will help you get used to being in a supported, inverted state. There are exercises that get your body prepared for inverting fully, and I swear the prep work is way harder than the pose itself!

Speak to your teacher and ask questions. Don’t rush, you’ll have a go when you’re ready.

When that time comes, be patient and put the work in – “99% practice 1% theory“, right Pattabhi Jois? Keep practicing – over and over and over – small but often, a few attempts at each yoga class. This posture really does take practice. Your muscles need practice to build strength. And there may be bruises, thuds, wobbles and those sudden “arrrrgh-I’m-going-to-fall” moments, but on the positive side you’ll feel like a 7-year-old again?

Should I use a wall?

Totally your call.

Personally, I did to begin with. This way can experience the weight in your head whilst protecting the neck without taking the full leaps.

Using a wall means you can get the arms used to being in exactly the correct position, even with some weight. Even better, practice with someone so they can not only spot you, but they can guide you physically (check your shoulders are over your elbows, check your torso is vertical), and verbally remind you to lift your shoulders up, your tummy in and your legs tall.

But then….you have to be brave and wave the wall goodbye! [Oh, Shirley Valentine…]

As I got more comfortable against a wall, I realised I would never fully prepare the muscles that are needed to hold me up if I didn’t start challenging my balance. So I started to take my headstand into the middle of the room… which was like starting all over again! My teacher would ‘spot’ me, first by supporting my hips and then my legs before gradually lessening physical contact. With further practice, I was able to hold a free-standing supported headstand with ease, and nowadays I can hold it until I get bored rather than tired. That’s the dream?

When you’ve got there, it doesn’t end. There’s pike practice, leg-shape variations, backbends…. After that it’s time for forearm-balance. And that’s a whole new story!

Speak to your teacher if you’ve got questions, concerns and/or if you would like to give them a whirl.

BE SAFE & HAVE FUN!

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Please speak to Kate Oates Yoga if you have any questions.

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