An inversion is the description for a posture where your head is below your heart (downward facing dog, shoulder stand, handstand, headstand, forearm stand, forward fold, etc). As cool as these poses look and feel, they do serve a purpose. Below are 8 benefits that come from hanging out upside down:
As a caution, if you have high blood pressure, heart conditions or inner ear complications you should consult a physician before taking an inversion.
1. Build core strength: In yoga, everything stems from your core. Inversions require an incredible amount of core strength, since maintaining your balance while inverted comes from engaging your core.
2. Develop upper body strength: In an inversion (where you are both upside-down and holding your own weight in either your forearms or in your hands), strength comes from your arms, shoulders and back to keep you from collapsing. You will likely fall if your shoulders are too far forward by your ears, however, if you pull your shoulder blades back and down your spine, you can hold the pose for longer. This movement is what builds upper body strength, since drawing your shoulders away from your ears develops the muscles, as you work against the weight of your own body as well as gravity to maintain correct alignment in order to stabilize the inversion.
3. Strengthen ligaments: Ligaments are the fibrous connective tissue between bones. In the spine, ligaments exist all around the vertebrae; some are thick and strong, limiting movement, while other ligaments permit movement, but are not as strong or durable. As you invert, this reverse loading on the spine strengthens weaker less durable ligaments, which can aid in the long term as a preventative measure against possible spinal injuries. Strong spine = less problems.
4. Realign your spine: Sleeping, sitting, slouching, standing, and walking—all compress the spine, especially in the lumbar area. This means that synovial fluid, which lubricates the spine, has a harder time moving around the vertebrae as the discs become more tightly packed together. If you invert, you can decompress your spine, letting gravity work to create space between the vertebrae once more. This can help release back pain, while also improving posture.
5. Reverse blood flow: Reversing blood flow increases circulation, enabling fresh oxygenated blood to reach the brain, re-stimulating the mind to be more active and engaged. Forget coffee…just go upside down.
6. Prevent illness: The lymphatic system works as a filter, which rids the body of bacteria and toxins through the movement of lymph nodes. These nodes travel in the direction of the heart and lungs, taking on an integral role to aid in immunity, circulation, and digestion. If you invert, the lymph nodes can more easily reach the lungs, where bacteria regularly enter the body.
7. Perseverance to gain confidence: Often, we appreciate the most what we’ve had to work the hardest for. If you try and try a million + times before you are able to take an inversion, you’ll appreciate the pose that much more, and it will give you the confidence to keep on keeping on. That’s what it’s all about.
I have learned a lot about myself in my persistence to keep trying poses I would continually fall out of, just to get back up and try it again… wanting it even more with each attempt. I may not be able to stay in a handstand today, but that day I do, each of those falls will all be worth it. Taking on inversions and other challenging postures in yoga has lead me to value this “never give up” yearning, since I have experienced the satisfaction of: “I can’t believe I can do that pose now” (for most of us, the harder poses are earned with practice and determination). Achieving something physically challenging is an addictive feeling, and one you can take with you off the mat and into other areas of your life, bringing confidence by default, but only if you let each fall be a lesson and not a discouragement.
8. Inversions are fun: As an adult with responsibilities, I like to find whatever excuse I can to not take life and myself so seriously. Inversions take me back to elementary school, when I was doing cartwheels all over the place, playing on monkey bars and dipping my hands into jars of paint by the easels in the classroom. It’s nice to think I can still escape into 3rd grade ecstasy as I do an inversion.