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Five Pillars Yoga

Yoga 101: Inversions

Why You Want to Be Upside Down

While most inversions can be built up to slowly over time, upside down shapes can really click after spending an entire class, workshop, or series of classes focusing on floating your feet over your head.

Dedicating extra time to inversions makes sense for a number of reasons. On a physical level, pressing up into handstand in the middle of a regular vinyasa class be challenging because of all the energy you’ve put into the other asanas; on a safety level, establishing a solid foundational practice is really important before attempting to freestyle without guidance.

Inversions are also in their own category energetically. Going upside down affects the body in the same way vigorous aerobic exercise does, by circulating blood down to the feet and up the back. That’s not to say inversions are a stand-in for something that gets your heart rate up, but they are another way to stimulate venous return, the flow of blood back to the heart (a good thing).

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 Why It’s Good to Go Upside Down

Inversions positively impact four major body systems: the cardiovascular, lymphatic, nervous and endocrine.

Cardiovascular

  • Inversions give the heart a break. When blood floods the carotid arteries in the neck, the body senses the increase of blood and subsequently slows the flow of blood to the brain, giving the heart a much needed respite.
  • They fortify lung tissue and create an efficient oxygen-to-blood exchange by bringing blood to the oxygen rich upper chamber of our chest.

Lymphatic

  • Lymph, a fluid containing white blood cells, is our first line of defence against illness. When we flip over, lymph can flow to places it might otherwise have a hard time reaching and strengthen the immune system.
  • Head below heart postures reverse the effects of gravity and promote glowing skin by flooding the face with fresh oxygen and flushing toxins.

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Nervous

  • The brain uses 25% of the body’s oxygen; increasing blood flow to the brain means more oxygen, which translates to improved concentration, memory and awareness.
  • Going upside down may help you sleep and calm down the parasympathetic nervous system. Check out the benefits of Viparita Karani (Legs Up The Wall) in our Deep Sleep post.

Endocrine

  • The endocrine glands run from the base of the spine up to the brain and release hormones like testosterone, estrogen, adrenaline, insulin and dopamine into the blood.
  • Flooding these glands with blood from the lower half of the body makes it easier for the glands to absorb nutrients from the blood and release built-up waste. The result is a possible improvement in gland function, hormone secretion, and the circulation of hormones to the rest of the body.
  • Inversions are natural mood boosters. Turning the adrenal glands on their head gives them a chance to flush and release endorphins that can leave you feeling uplifted.

 

All things considered, inversions are worth floating heels-over-head in love with! Best of all, there are countless variations, from moderate to advanced that allow practitioners of all levels to reap the benefits. 

 

 

 

Photos: Top handstand from Whole Living; forearm stand with eagle legs