Inversions: the Joy and Power of Going Upside Down
In my 30-plus years of maintaining a personal yoga practice, inversions have become a mainstay because of the powerful impact they deliver to my system—physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
What is meant by the term inversion? An inversion is a reversal of position, order, form or relationship.
In yoga asana, inversion most often refers to postures where the head and heart are oriented below the pelvis or below the pelvis and legs. Some examples are dog pose, standing forward bend, handstand, head stand, and shoulder stand. Due to the energetic effect, I will also include some back bends where just the head is below the heart (and possibly the pelvis as well) such as wheel and inverted staff pose.
In yoga, inversions are said to have numerous benefits, including:
- Clearing away non-essential distractions, rooting you in the NOW;
- Helping change your physical and emotional perspective, revealing an underlying quality of contentment and wholeness;
- Supporting your endocrine and circulatory systems;
- Recharging brain cells for healthy brain function;
- Building core strength and improving balance;
- Bringing renewed energy and enthusiasm to the body, mind and spirit;
- Cultivating a sense of delight, joy and playfulness.
Inversions can sound scary or intimidating to those who haven’t tried them. But when you start small and gradually work up to more challenging poses, it begins to feel very doable and fun. People with head, neck and spine injuries, as well as those with high blood pressure and heart problems, do need to take precautions.
On Saturday, March 9, 3-5pm, I will offer an all-levels “Inversion Therapy” workshop at Zenergy so you can explore and experience these potent poses for yourself!! Whether you’re new to inversions or looking to deepen your practice, please join me by registering for my March clinic to learn more. (Search the clinic listings for “Inversion Therapy” in March.)
“Our understanding of how inversions benefit us is built upon expert opinion, case studies, and educated reasoning. In the absence of more scientifically rigorous studies, we can cite biomechanical principles, measure indices such as heart rate or blood pressure, and witness the effects of inversions on people who practice regularly.
All the evidence points to one principal, galvanizing effect that inversions have on the practitioner: They upend one’s relationship to gravity. Gravity has a profound effect on the physiological processes of the human body. As NASA discovered and Jerome Groopman reported in a New Yorker article (February 14, 2000), once humans enter zero gravity, we are subject to severe biomedical problems. Our sense of balance, determined by the vestibular system of the inner ear and calibrated to minute fluid movements, is destroyed. Blood, no longer weighted in the lower torso and legs, floods upwards and the heart speeds up, provoking dehydration and eventually anemia. Muscles atrophy and bone mass drops precipitously.
The human body is sensitive to the fluctuations of gravity because it consists of more than 60 percent water. From the skin in, the body is dense with cells, floating in a bath of intercellular fluid. A complex network of vessels weaves in and around every cell, steadily moving fluids through valves, pumps, and porous membranes, dedicated to transporting, nourishing, washing, and cleansing.
According to David Coulter, Ph.D., who taught anatomy at the University of Minnesota for 18 years, when one inverts, tissue fluids of the lower extremities drain—far more effectively than when one is asleep. Areas of congestion clear. In a 1992 Yoga International article on Headstand and the circulatory system, Coulter wrote: “If you can remain in an inverted posture for just 3 to 5 minutes, the blood will not only drain quickly to the heart, but tissue fluids will flow more efficiently into the veins and lymph channels of the lower extremities and of the abdominal and pelvic organs, facilitating a healthier exchange of nutrients and wastes between cells and capillaries.”