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The art of going upside down

So you have been getting into yoga for a little while and have witnessed some people in class going up side down. You may be pondering why on earth are they doing that?! I know I did when I first started going to yoga classes. I wanted to give it a try but was a little too scared and thought I will try next time.. If you are inquisitive to learn some more info on 'inversions' as they are termed in Yoga, I have put together some info from my own experience in my practice and also from assiting students to gain confindence in the studio.

Why on earth should we attempt to do go upside?

There are many health benefits to going upside down, which we will cover in a moment. Inversions are crucial for equanimity & emotional balance. From my experience in times of stress or with lots going on I find that inversions especially headstand really helps to calm me down, bring new and fresh energy and a sense of peace within. Inversions also allow us to find a place of playfulness, getting back InTouch with our inner-child. I also like the challenge of inversions helping us to grow and evolve our practice and ourselves. As we get older we limit ourselves from doing things in fear of getting hurt or thinking that our bodies are not capable of doing these things. A lot of the time this is mind over matter. Inversions teach us to let go and overcome these self doubts, fears and belief systems. It is amazing how great you feel about yourself when you finally nail your first headstand on your own!

What are the health benefits associated with headstand & shoulder stand?

Headstand is said to give the following health benefits:

  • Balance you both mentally and physically

  • Reduce stress and anxiety

  • Improves digestion

  • Helps to relieve menopause symptoms

  • Tones the abdomen

  • Therapeutic for asthma, infertility and insomnia.

Shoulder stand is said to give the following health benefits:

  • Increases blood flow to the heart, eyes and brain.

  • It is said to stimulate the thyroid gland which plays are role in the bodies metabolism.

  • Soothes the nervous system

  • Assists in alleviating constipation, acid reflux and varicose veins.

  • Brings balance to body and mind.

Benefits of handstand:

  • Builds strength in the wrists, arms and shoulders

  • Tones the whole body

  • Tones the abdominals

  • Reduces fear & increases body awareness

Now that we have discussed why should we do inversions and how they can help us, we need to look at what we need to be mindful of and when its not a good idea to go upside down.

When practising these poses, it is imperative that you really check in with yourself to see how you are feeling, bringing a state of mindfulness and tuning into your breath. It’s a good idea to start with some pranayama (breathing) practice before you beginto help you stay calm in the asana. Its easy to forget the breathe when you have all these other things going on! Without the breath and awareness we are just doing physical exercise. We also need to prepare the body, warming up the correct body areas, taking time to do so and ensuring everything feels good. For example if your are attempting to practice some handstands, the wrists, shoulders, pecs and core are all essential in performing this pose so they are the areas that need to be warmed up.

When should I avoid inversions? (the following is a guide and essentially you know how you really feel in your body so listen, it has the answers)

  • Neck Injuries

  • Back injuries

  • Headache or Migraine

  • Heart condition

  • High Blood Pressure

  • Pregnancy & Late pregnancy (if you have had a regular practice for many years than you may find inversions ok)

  • Mensuration (normally avoid inversions of the first couple of days, I personally find it ok after this but as everyone is unique and individual you may decide it is not for you)

The art of going upside down, these are some tips I have found useful over the many years I have been practicing.

  • Find a quiet place

  • Tune into your body and breath

  • I highly advise learning the first steps under the guidance of an experienced teacher, if you however a practicing at home on your own ensure you have crash pillows, someone to spot you or a sturdy wall to assist you!

  • Warm your body up correctly. Sun A & Sun B are great but also focus on the specific areas. Shoulders, spine, core, wrists etc.

  • For headstand and forearm balance make sure your forearms, elbows and wrists are placed evenly.

  • Make sure your weight is balance on front, back and both sides.

  • Ensure that your head is in a comfortable position and that the neck is not comprised.

  • Keep the shoulders lifted (try not to sink into the joints) when keeping the shoulders and the trapezius muscles lifted the neck will stay long and space will be created in the area.

  • Use blocks and straps to assist the elbows splaying out.

  • The legs should be long and stacked over the hips and the hips over the shoulders.

Remember that everyday is different and you may find these poses easy or you may find them difficult. If you can achieve these poses it doesn’t make you better or more advanced at yoga, its simply just another pose, and there is always another variation or transition to work on. The goal is more about how you attempt them, your journey and how they can help you in life to age gracefully. How much can you surrender and let go of? Once you nail these poses it can be addictive to do them over and over trust me I know from experience. This is not yoga though this is the ego, the yogi path is everything in ‘moderation’ this is know as ‘Brahmacharya’. Brahmacharya’ is the fourth of the Yama (moral codes and ethics in which we choose to live our lives). Be playful, Be graceful, Be mindul and most of all Be safe and have fun! If you would like to deepen your practice, join us for one of our Inversion Workshops. Namaste

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