It's a common image associated with yoga: a fearlessly upended yogi, standing on his or her head and radiating inner peace with a calm, upside-down smile.
Those topsy-turvy poses are called inversions, a term used to reference any position where your hips and feet end up above your head — including Headstand (Sirsasana), Handstand (Adho Mukha Vrksasana), and Shoulderstand (Sarvangasana).
They can be intimidating to attempt, but when practiced correctly, inversions can be rejuvenating, exhilarating, and calming. Their benefits are many: Better sleep and digestion, reduced stress and headaches, and improved mood, focus, and mental clarity.
Afraid to go upside-down in yoga class? Take these simple steps to heart, and you'll soon be wiggling your toes in the sky.
Always learn and practice under the guidance of an experienced and knowledgeable teacher. Avoid inversions if you have glaucoma, high blood pressure, a neck injury, or have recently had a stroke.
Don't Rush Into It
Remember, yoga is not a competition. Don't feel rushed to attempt inversions just because others in your class practice them. It's good to challenge yourself, but never try a new inversion unless you feel absolutely safe and ready — that includes feeling comfortable with your instructor's level of knowledge and experience. Take your time coming to inversions; a year of yoga practice is not too long!
If you're unsure whether or not you want to try inversions, talk with your instructor. He or she can advise you based on your current abilities and give you some ideas for helpful preparatory poses.
If you're scared of being upside-down, try lying on your bed with your head hanging off the edge. This will get you comfortable with the sensation of your head being lower than your body.
Keep It Slow & Steady
Once you feel ready and have the okay from your instructor, start slowly building into inversions. It's exciting to learn new poses, but moving gradually will ensure you meet these challenges safely.
Learn the fundamentals of each inversion by working closely with your teacher and going to class regularly. It may take twenty classes before you can hold an inversion for two seconds, but it's better to be deliberate with your progress than to rush into a pose unprepared and risk injury.
Learn the Way In & Out
The majority of injuries in yoga don't happen during the poses themselves but during the transitions between poses.
Make sure you know the correct, safe way to get in and out of inversions before you attempt any of the new poses, and spend a few classes practicing just the transitions to familiarize your body with the movements. It will be one less thing to worry about once you start practicing inversions regularly.
Build Your Strength
Your entire body must be flexible and strong to do inversions (you'll also need a calm and clear mind). The strength of your upper body and core is particularly important, and developing these areas will allow you to get and stay upside-down without strain or injury.
Use the following poses to develop the follow areas:
- Spine and shoulders: Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana), Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskaras), and Dolphin Pose will bring extension to your spine and open your shoulders.
- Balance: Standing poses like Warrior I (Virabhadrasana I) and King Dancer (Natarajasana) will help to develop strength, balance, and focus.
- Core: Core strengthening poses like Boat Pose (Navasana) and Crane Pose (Bakasana) will help to stabilize your midsection once you're upside-down.
Things done well and with a care exempt themselves from fear.
Breath is the thread that connects every yoga pose — even inversions. Once your feet are in the air, don't forget to breathe! Holding your breath deprives your muscles of oxygen, which causes them to tense up and not work to their full ability. Breathing also helps you focus and stay calm when the blood is rushing to your head.
Your breath may be slightly constricted in inversions, particularly in Shoulderstand and Plow (Halasana), but try to keep your inhalations and exhalations steady.
Remembering to breathe may be the key that helps you to fly.
Inversions are fun, calming, and beneficial to both the body and mind.
Remember, they're just poses like every other part of yoga class. Practice diligently but don't forget to breathe and relax. Inverting literally puts the world in a new perspective — once you've been upside-down, you may never see things quite the same way again!