One of my favorite moments of any yoga class (whether I’m a student or teacher) is when the words “everybody grab your mat and find a space at the wall for inversions” are spoken. If I were to put my emotions into gif form – and I am – it would look a lot like this:
Thanks, Liz Lemon!
I know, however, that some people hear those words and look like this:
Or even this:
If you’re one of those folks let me tell you – inversions don’t have to be scary or too awkward. They can be energizing and even illuminating. I have learned a lot about my body and my yoga practice through inversions. I finally learned what “press out through your big toe ball mound” really MEANS when I did it in headstand and felt my leg muscles turn on. Experiencing a pevis tilt/tailbone tuck upside down as “sending your sacrum UP toward your heels” helped me to find the abdominal engagement necessary in almost every posture. And I never really understood “draw in toward the mid-line” in the warriors and lunges until I needed to use that energy to balance in a handstand. Maybe you’ve experience these same break throughs, maybe you’re just beginning your inversion practice (pro-tip: starting to think about it totally counts as “beginning your practice” so congrats!), or maybe you have additional or different break throughs to share. In any case, I highly recommend taking a few moments today or this week to try some inversions. Find a wall, a closed door, a tree, the side of a building, or maybe even a friendly neighbor to practice against (except probably not that last one).
Inversions, any pose where your head is below your heart, come with great benefits. They increase venous return, increase lymphatic circulation (hello, immune system!), strengthen arm, shoulder, and back muscles, and nourish scalp and hair roots. Energetically and emotionally, inversions offer a new perspective on life (figuratively and literally), build the ability to shake things up, and cultivate courage and trust. Who couldn’t use a little extra courage and trust, amiright?
So let’s get started. Pick a posture to work with. Don’t overlook legs up the wall. Casey, of Talking Yoga, gives a great description of this “magic pose” here. When you think about it, poses like uttanasana – any standing forward fold – are also inversions.
My current favorite pose is L pose (above). L pose is often used as a prep pose for handstand because it helps to build the strength necessary for a balancing handstand. Whether you’re headed for handstand or not, L pose is a great posture for reaping the benefits of inversions. To practice L pose, sit with your butt against a wall with your feet out in front of you – like dandasana. Take a mental picture of where your heels are and flip around to come into table top position with your hands in the spot your heels occupied. Settle into your table top. Check that your wrists are right under your shoulders and your hips are directly over your knees. Press through your hands – especially the inside of your hand. Your toes should be at the wall.
Shrug your shoulders toward your ears to lengthen your side body and then melt your heart toward the floor. Feel your shoulder blades glide toward each other on your back. Take a quick moment to make sure you melted your heart and not your belly. Curl your toes under and – keeping your heart melted and your abs engaged – lift your hips as if you’re moving into a short downward facing dog. Send one foot a foot or two up the wall and – pressing your lifted foot against the wall – lift the other foot to the wall. Walk your feet up to hip height. Once your legs are pressing straight out from your hips, press your heart toward the wall you’re facing. You’re there!
You may even want to play with lifting one leg at a time from the wall so you are in a straight line from your wrist to your ankle. In this variation, press out through your big toe ball mound. Keep one foot at the wall at all times.
When you’re ready to come out of the posture, walk your feet down the wall and drop your knees. Come into child’s pose for a moment to let your body feel the affects of your inversion and adjust after being upside down. You may want to come into a modified child’s pose with your head hovering a few inches off the ground to keep your cervical spine in line with the rest of your spine.
A few tips:
1) I’ve found that it’s very easy to walk my hands out too far from the wall. In fact, in the photo above, my hands are too far from the tree. We’re looking for a straight line from wrist, elbow, to shoulder. If you are feeling cramped for space in your L pose, focus on pressing your chest toward the wall to find more space instead of moving your hands farther from the wall, which can compromise your wrist, elbow, and shoulder health. I highly suggest having a friend or fellow yogi take a look and make sure your wrists, elbows, and shoulders are stacked.
2) As long as they are looking, have them check where your feet are on the wall. I often see folks with their legs far too high on the wall so their legs and torso are at a 110ish degree angle instead of a 90 degree angle, which can put a lot of pressure of your lower back. Remember that you’re not headed towards a handstand here – your goal is a 90 degree angle.
3) What if you’re not able to put both feet up on the wall? Well, I have great news. That’s totally ok, you’re getting the benefits of an inversion and building strength. Practice lifting one leg at a time and pressing your foot into the wall. Make sure you try a few time on each side.
As always – take care of yourself. If you are pregnant, you should exercise particular caution in inversions. Some people suggest that pregnant women should not perform inversions at all. If you have uncontrolled high blood pressure or a heart condition, do not lower your head below your heart. Also, if you have a detached retina, weak eye capillaries or any inflammation of eyes or ears, you don’t want more pressure in your head so you should avoid inversions.
Looking for more energizing postures? Check out my post on arm balances.
Caught the inversion bug? Whole Living has a great article with instruction on several inversions including prep for more advanced balancing inversions.
Feels good, right?