Why You Should Practice Inversions

Written by AYC Instructor, Tucker Waldron

Inversions are powerful postures in the practice of yoga. They can benefit us physically, mentally and even spiritually. In hatha yoga, the primary branch of yoga as practiced in western cultures, the goal of the practice is to raise kundalini. Kundalini is a dormant state of consciousness that is nestled at the base of the spine in all of us and is usually depicted as a serpent. This energy of awareness moves through the central energy channel located in the spine (the shushumna nadi) to the sahasrara chakra, which is the highest energy center located on the crown of the head. This ultimately results in connecting us with Ishwara, our individual version of God.

All of this can seem quite esoteric and new-agey. So the question is, how can we understand this on a practical, everyday level? At any given moment we are not particularly aware of where our energy or consciousness is directed. Thankfully, yoga is there to help shed a light on it! Yoga asanas can teach us how to use our mental and physical energy (prana) with purpose and intention. They teach us how to control this prana, and ultimately, gain control of our senses (pratyahara) and consciousness itself (dharana and dhyana). If the goal of the yoga practice is to sublimate this energy and our consciousness to a higher level, inversions give us a shortcut to reversing the typical flow of energy and consciousness. Each group of postures corresponds to energy centers in the body. Inversions are unique in the fact that they flip the entire system and use the natural force of gravity to purify each chakra.

The benefits of inversions are vast but include physiologic, psychologic and yogic blessings. Physiologically getting upside down sends a refreshing flow of blood into the lungs, heart and head. They drain the stagnation that builds in our lower extremities due to sitting and standing. According to the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, they reverse aging, improve posture and bring harmony to all of the bodily systems. Psychologically, inversions broaden our perspective! It shows us that there is more than one way to view our world and that our unique perspective is not the only one. Yogically, inversions specifically purify the throat, third eye and crown chakras which correlate to our relation with our self, our teachers and our version of a higher power.

Inversions include but are not limited to:

  • Child’s pose (balasana)
  • Downward facing dog (adho mukha svanasana)
  • Handstand (adho mukha vrksasana)
  • Forearm stand (pincha mayurasana)
  • Headstand (salamba sirsasana)
  • Legs up the wall pose (vipareeta karani)
  • Shoulder stand (salamba sarvangasana)

I love all of these inversions and their variations for different reasons, but if I had to choose one, I’d have to say forearm stand is my favorite. It is slightly less scary than handstand but more challenging than headstand. Pincha Mayurasana requires not just strength in the shoulders, arms and core but also openness in the shoulders and psoas. To me, it is a good example of the balance between stability and flexibility we aim to strike in the yoga practice and life itself.

In my opinion, the best reason to practice inversions is that they are just fun, and the best way to practice them is with a sense of playfulness! They are an opportunity to change our relationship with gravity and explore a different perspective in a whole new way. I hope you’ll join me on Wednesday, January 23, from 5:45pm to 7:45pm to play with and explore these inversions. If you can’t, I hope you take the time to do so on your own or in your next yoga class. Namaste.

You can sign up for Tucker’s Inversion workshop here!

Overcoming Your Fear of Inversions

By AYC Instructor Tucker Shelton

Headstands and forearm stands and handstands, oh my! Fear of inverting is perfectly normal in any yogi’s journey. The push to be upside down is strong in western yoga culture, but to many practitioners, inversions feel risky and unachievable at best. This is for good reason because it doesn’t take much to tip and fall hard out of a handstand.

As a species, we have developed the unique quality of bipedalism. When we stand up, we bring our heads away from the earth. Energetically, the action of standing is yang, and the action of moving towards the earth is yin. The root chakra and the legs are where we store our mortal fears, so moving your head toward the earth/putting your head below your feet means those fears flow to the front of your mind.

It is important to be able to approach inversions with a calm heart and mind. Blood pressure needs to be low to get all the juicy circulatory benefits, but usually, we are maxing out in our practice by the time we go up. We often jump and fling ourselves up into the poses. It’s no wonder that our bodies give out and we fall.

As a young yogi, I was always out to find the next great pose. It was thrilling after a lifetime of avoiding competitive sports to find an embodied practice that brought me joy. The more poses I could tuck under my belt, the more excited I became. I used to call my mom after class to tell her about my latest asana discoveries.

Once, I took an inversion workshop with a knowledgeable teacher. Here I encountered a new variation on forearm stands where I was asked to bring my hands to my chin and balance only on the tips of my elbows. There is still a plastered-over hole in that studio’s wall from where my butt crashed through!

During my excited yogi phase, a very wise teacher named John Scott helped me cool the fire of my ego and step back from my unwieldy inversion practice. I took inversions, other than legs up the wall and the occasional shoulder stand, out of my practice for seven years. I realized during that time that although it takes discipline and determination to get upside down, it is more important to have patience and ease in the approach. I stopped being hard on myself, and I actually stopped caring about inversions altogether.

When I came back to inversions a few years ago, I leaned forward, put my hands on the floor and magically floated into a press handstand for the first time in my life. I was absolutely amazed! Somehow it had become possible when I wasn’t focusing on my handstand. During my years upright, I was focusing my practice mostly on deep core strength for low back care. Actions like low boat, and other safe strength builders, are what gave my body the control to invert safely.

Here is my advice to you.

  • It’s a good idea to build up to inversions slowly. It’s not really important to get that pose today.
  • You may not necessarily need them. For example, legs up the wall boasts many of the same benefits (i.e. lymph drainage, improved balance and concentration, elevated mood, fresh blood flow, etc.)
  • Practice strengthening and stretching preparations by opening the shoulders with strapwork. Practice core strength exercises and learn to keep your low ribs back when your arms go overhead.
  • You can try l-pose handstand at the wall. Once you can be here for ten breaths and release with control, you are ready to come away from the wall.
  • Try not to hop. Kicking up bypasses the control and strength needed to be in a pose safely. It feels good to get up, but it feels better to move sustainably.
  • Ditch the wall. Using a wall to catch you makes you rely on the wall, and you will have to relearn the shapes all over again when you come away from it.
  • The key is to warm up before you go up.
  • Ask different teachers about their perspectives on inversions to help build your own understanding.

Sometimes the hardest part is just finding the courage to try! You can take inversions on at your own pace when you feel that you’re ready. Talk to our knowledgeable instructors at AYC to work towards trying or improving your inversions!

5 Tips for Aging Gracefully with Yoga

By Stephanie Keach

1. Pelvic Floor

Usually we think anti-sagging, anti-wrinkling, anti-balding when we see “Aging Gracefully”, but honestly those things don’t make us graceful. How about not having to wear a big, bulky diaper? Yup, GBK (Go Beyond Kegels) I say. My students will tell you I am not shy to drop anatomy terms like vagina, testicles, and anus in a yoga class. I’m a frequent flyer with pelvic floor anatomy because lets face it: Use it or Lose it. So squeeze often down there. Squeeze different things down there. Trying to isolate genitals from anus for instance – this might take a lifetime but the practice itself can enrich so many aspects. Elimination and sexuality, yes, those are the more obvious benefits. But how about becoming more grounded and certain? How about healing lower back issues? Oh yeah people, get your squeeze on!

2. Toes

Now, these fantastic appendages may not get sexier with age, but we can keep them limber and strong. Consider how many hours a day, each week, each year of your life your sweet little feet have carried you and spend some time daily literally massaging your toes. Touch them and Love them- they are going to (hopefully) carry you through ’til the End! Trying to grab / pick up things with your toes is a common activity in my “shoes-off” household, helping our feet stay healthy and limber.

3. Neck

Another common saying out of my mouth is “Your neck will not age well. Period. I am sorry for this news.” Yoga doesn’t prevent aging anywhere, and our vulnerable necks take a beating for sure: life, sports, computer screens, headstands… The best we can do for our necks is awareness and gentleness. Whenever you can remember, Check your Neck! meaning watch alignment and posture (driving and looking at screens are really bad ones!) Add in frequent neck stretches and neck rolls and that’s great. Get neck massages and you are on your way to Neck Nirvana!

4. Nutrition

I can’t think of a more loaded topic in the yoga world, yet regardless of diet: We Are What We Eat. Mindfully pausing before purchasing, preparing and ingesting can help us make better choices for our overall health and well being. But regardless of the ever controversial Vegan vs. Paleo, ask yourself these things:
How do I feel while I am eating this?
How do I feel after I eat this?
How are my bowel movements?
How is my mood after I eat?
How are my energy levels throughout the day?
How are my hair, skin, nails?
How is my menstrual cycle?
All these things listed above are very affected by what you eat. It takes deep self-reflection to determine the least violence towards the planet but also yourself! Moderation and flexibility is really the kindest food mantra we got in the yoga world. (Oh hey, it’s a pretty good Yoga body AND Yoga mind mantra too!) As most long-term Yogis agree, I believe listening to what your body TRULY needs is one of the most important forms of non-violence.

5. Rest

Oh stress. Our dear, uninvited guest doesn’t always get the hint that his welcome is over! So alas, our rhythm of deep rest and healing gets disturbed, and this disturbance can wreak havoc in all parts of our lives. This isn’t news, almost half the population is experiencing insomnia for either short term or long term reasons. Yoga gives us amazing tools for rest: Restorative yoga, Deep breathing, Meditation, and my all time favorite, Shavasana. Taking mini-naps has been a life-saver since I began having babies 20 years ago! To survive my pregnancies, when insomnia first visited, I began to get really good at Quick Shavasanas. Meaning, I would get into bed, put pillows around my head to cover my ears and eyes (my husband uses earplugs and an eye-mask), then lie on my back, comfortably like corpse pose in a yoga class, with a blanket, then I would super efficiently scan my body to deeply sink into the mattress, then my mind, and poof! I was out. I would either have a timer, or would naturally “awaken” after 20 minutes, refreshed and restored! Superbly miraculous and way more important to “master” than handstand, in my opinion.

I think it would be awesome if we edited our colloquial saying to “Aging Healthfully.” Now that is something to achieve! We are all aging, every single second. Yoga will not prevent it, and it may not even slow it down. But we can start right now with new practices to help the process feel more comfortable. Upcoming workshops like Yoga and Ayurveda will educate us in Nutritional healing with Yoga. Our 300 hour Therapeutics Training gives you every tool Yoga has to utilize our tools for healthier aging. Workshops like Senior Yoga with Libby Hinsley, Restorative Yoga with Sara Levine, Yoga and Meditation with Michael Johnson are only going to expand on my Top 5 suggestions above. I will leave you with one other great Tip:

“You don’t stop laughing when you grow old, you grow old when you stop laughing.”
― George Bernard Shaw