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Why are inversions in yoga good for the body?

Benefits of Yoga Inversions

The ability of inversion to reverse the aging process is perhaps one of the most known  benefits; Yoga inversions are not just about you turning upside – but about doing it mindfully with breath awareness, they just don’t make you look younger, but also make you feel younger!

Other benefits applicable to almost all yoga inversions are, elimination of toxins, boost in positive energy and immunity, increased flow of oxygenated blood to the brain, works as a natural antidepressant, stimulates nervous system and calms the mind, improves circulation, strengthens the back and core abdominal muscles, improves posture and overall balance.

Mentally and emotionally, one of the biggest advantages of inversions is its ability to eliminate fear and build confidence. At first, most of us are scared of lifting both legs and balancing on head or hands. Fear of falling and fear of change often stands as the biggest barrier between you and an inversion.

But as you keep trying, as you keep falling and picking yourself up to try again, you overcome your fears and begin to enjoy the process. You become more confident about your ability to move forward and balance, and you also learn to accept your failures and view them as a learning lesson.

Your perspective changes. You do not see falling as failing but an opportunity to improve and try again. You build self-confidence and at the same time learn to keep your ego in check. You learn to approach your practice with curiosity and humility, look inward and not compare your practice with someone else’s.

When to Avoid Inversions

The list of cautions and contraindications seem to outweigh the benefits of inversions. Thus one should remember that inversions are not for everyone and your Yoga practice is not incomplete or less effective if your physical condition does not permit you to hold an inversion. There are many other alternatives in Yoga that can help you achieve similar results.

People with high blood pressure, heart conditions, glaucoma, inflammation of the ear, weak eye capillaries, severe nearsightedness, problems with pituitary or thyroid glands, arteriosclerosis, cerebral or other thrombosis, severe asthma, tuberculosis, cold or sinusitis, excessively impure blood, slipped disc, vertigo, weak spine or any other back condition, should avoid practicing inversions. Those with cervical problems like spondylosis  should avoid any posture where the neck is bearing weight.

Inversions for Beginners

While inverted asanas are all about raising the legs up, semi-inverted asanas help prepare the body and mind for a complete inversion. They gradually strengthen the body and train the mind for the complete inversion. The following are is a list of semi-inverted poses that can be practiced by beginners:  

  • Prasarita Padottanasana or Wide-Legged Forward Bend

  • Adho Mukha Svanasana or Downward-Facing Dog

  • Viparita Karani ro Legs-Up-The-Wall (Upside-down pose)

How to do sirsasana or headstand:

Sirsasana is also known as the King of asanas as the ancient Yogis believed that the nectar of immortality or amrita is retained in the brain for longer time. You may need help with lifting your legs as a beginner, thus it is advisable to practice near a wall and under a teacher’s guidance.

Sit in Vajrasana and place your forearms in front, with elbows shoulder width apart. Interlock your fingers and form an equilateral triangle within the framework of your forearms and elbows. Place the crown of he head between the interlocked fingers and open palms. Let the fingers and palm give a firm support to the head while you focus on grounding the head.

Lift the knees and buttocks off the mat, straighten your legs and raise your hips high. Slowly walk the feet as close as possible towards the head, gradually allowing the back to move to a vertical position. Stay steady and keep your neck long and relaxed. For the lift, you can either raise both legs together or raise one leg at a time.

Bend the knees, engage the thighs and transfer the body weight from the toes onto the head and arms. Raise one foot off the floor and place it on the wall, keeping your legs bent. Similarly bring the other foot on the wall. Stay steady and breathe evenly for a few seconds before you straighten the legs completely to get into the final pose.

As you gain stability in this pose, you can further practice Prasarita Konasana or Baddha Konasana in Sirsasana. Maintaining Ardha Sirsasana position at first makes you aware of complete sense of balance, which includes not arching the back in and out too much, more pressure on the arms and less on the neck, core and back muscles in action.

Release the posture by slowly bending your knees and lowering the body with control in the reverse order. Rest with your head down on the mat for a short time before sitting upright.

How to do Tripod headstand or Salamba Sirsasana:

Tripod headstand, or Salamba Sirsasana II, is a posture of both strength and stability. This beautiful variation of headstand opens the door to a plethora of fun transitions on your mat as you flow from inversion to arm balances and beyond.

This supported headstand requires great attention to detail and intelligence in the body to safely perform. It also requires a great deal of upper body and core strength.

So, as you’re working toward building up the strength for tripod headstand, always keep in mind that there are many steps along the way to prepare you for the full posture and it is totally legitimate to stay in any of those steps for weeks, months or even years as you build up strength, courage and stability to realize the full posture.

How to do Mukha Vrksasana or Handstand

The idea of standing on your hands instead of standing on your feet sounds marvellous, doesn’t it? For some, just the thought of turning upside and having the feet flying in the air could get their heart to beat faster! Well, the practice certainly does push the heart rate up and gets blood pumping while working on your core. It helps strengthen the wrists, arms, shoulders, and though it is an asana or a workout in itself, it is one of the rare postures that gets you excited, gets you giggling and gives you a rush of happiness and fun!

These are some wonderful reasons to practice a handstand daily! However, most of the contraindications mentioned under inversion are also applicable to a handstand, especially shoulder/neck or back injury, high BP, headache or any heart condition.

The only way to find stability in a handstand is to practice regularly. As the name suggests, in the final pose you should be strongly rooted like a tree, the only difference is that you carry the entire body weight on your hands instead of the legs.

Start by holding a Downward Dog position facing the wall, at a distance of 5-6 inches between your fingertips and the wall. Keep the shoulder blades broad and rotate your upper arms outward. Bend the left leg at the knee and bring it closer to the wall. Practice a few hops here before sweeping your right leg up and getting it to a vertical position with wall or partner support.

Now slowly work on getting the left leg up to the wall. Engage the core abdominal muscles as you balance and keep the head between your upper arms. Like any balancing posture, setting your gaze at a certain point on the floor, will help achieve stability. Practicing the hops with alternate legs will help strengthening right and left side. Every time you hop, exhale deeply and keep the core engaged.       

Gradually, you will be able to kick all the way without the hops. And slowly, you can also practice lifting both legs together. Avoid arching the back and maintain a vertical position by lengthening the torso and rolling the thighs in. Keep your shoulder blades lifted even while coming down, bringing one leg down at a time.

There are numerous other variations that can be practiced after gaining mastery over the basic inversions. Other variations include, Bhoomi Mastakasana, Padma Sarvangasana, Salamba Sirsasana, Niralamba Sirsasana, Urdhva Padmasana, and other variations of Headstand and Handstands.

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