asheville yoga

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!