Benefits of Yoga Inversions
The ability of inversion to reverse the ageing process is perhaps one of the most known benefits; Yoga inversions are not just about you turning upside – but about doing it mindfully with breath awareness, they just don’t make you look younger, but also make you feel younger!
Other benefits applicable to almost all yoga inversions are, elimination of toxins, boost in positive energy and immunity, increased flow of oxygenated blood to the brain, works as a natural antidepressant, stimulates the nervous system and calms the mind, improves circulation, strengthens the back and core abdominal muscles, improves posture and overall balance.
Mentally and emotionally, one of the biggest advantages of inversions is its ability to eliminate fear and build confidence. At first, most of us are scared of lifting both legs and balancing on the head or hands. Fear of falling and fear of change often stands as the biggest barrier between you and an inversion.
But as you keep trying, as you keep falling and picking yourself up to try again, you overcome your fears and begin to enjoy the process. You become more confident about your ability to move forward and balance, and you also learn to accept your failures and view them as a learning lesson.
Your perspective changes. You do not see falling as failing but an opportunity to improve and try again. You build self-confidence and at the same time learn to keep your ego in check. You learn to approach your practice with curiosity and humility, look inward and not compare your practice with someone else’s.
When to Avoid Inversions
The list of cautions and contraindications seem to outweigh the benefits of inversions. Thus one should remember that inversions are not for everyone and your Yoga practice is not incomplete or less effective if your physical condition does not permit you to hold an inversion. There are many other alternatives in Yoga that can help you achieve similar results.
People with high blood pressure, heart conditions, glaucoma, inflammation of the ear, weak eye capillaries, severe nearsightedness, problems with pituitary or thyroid glands, arteriosclerosis, cerebral or other thromboses, severe asthma, tuberculosis, cold or sinusitis, excessively impure blood, slipped disc, vertigo, weak spine or any other back condition, should avoid practising inversions. Those with cervical problems like spondylosis should avoid any posture where the neck is bearing weight.
Inversions During Pregnancy
If you have never practised Yoga before pregnancy then it is advisable that you do not attempt to practice any yoga pose on your own (let alone inversions). However, if you have been practising yoga before becoming pregnant and are comfortable with yoga inversions, then it could be beneficial to continue your practice through pregnancy.
However, pregnancy is not a time to learn inversions or experiment with anything new. It is best to stick to your routine and also consult your gynaecologist and yoga trainer who can help you plan your yoga sessions based on physical and mental condition. As with any yoga practice during pregnancy, let your intuition guide you with inversions too. Listen to your body and avoid anything that feels uncomfortable.
Inversions for Beginners
While inverted asanas are all about raising the legs up, semi-inverted asanas help prepare the body and mind for a complete inversion. They gradually strengthen the body and train the mind for the complete inversion. The following are is a list of semi-inverted poses that can be practised by beginners:
Stand with your feet about 3 to 4 feet apart. Place the hands around the hips and bend forward from the hips. Alternatively, you can place the palms down on the mat, in line with the feet and as you bend forward to try and bring the crown of the head on the mat, in between the hands.
From here, press into the palms and raise the heels to balance on the head and toes. You can also practice with your hands off the mat, arms raised up and back with fingers interlocked or holding one wrist with the other hand. It is important to remain comfortable and breathe while you hold the posture.
To return to an upright position, bring soles of the feet on the mat and hands around the hip and inhale and return to a standing position.
This asana works on the entire body, especially the shoulders, calves and hamstrings. It helps decompress the lower back by helping you evenly stretch the spine. It is also a great pose to calm the mind and is often used as the foundational pose in Vinyasa.
You can get into this pose from a Child’s Pose or by coming on your hands and knees. Spread your fingers, keeping your hands shoulder-width apart and feet,hip-width apart. Lift your knees off the mat and lengthen your spine towards the ceiling, reaching through the tailbone.
Root down through palms and heels. Become aware of the deep stretch on the back of the leg. Try not to squeeze the shoulder blades, instead draw them towards the spine and lower them, creating more space in upper back and releasing tension around the neck area. Tuck your head in and stay in the pose for 5 to 10 breaths. Rest in child’s pose.
Lie flat on the back with legs together in a straight line and arms close to the body with palms facing down. Raise both legs, keeping them straight and together, moving them over the body and towards the head. Push down on the hands and when the buttocks are off the mat, bend the elbows and place the palms under the top of the hips to support the body.
Keep the legs in a vertical position and relax while you hold the posture. The weight of the body is supported by the shoulders, neck, palms and elbows, and the trunk is at a 45-degree angle.
To return to the supine position, lower the legs and relax the hands by placing them back on the mat in line with the body. Continue to bring the legs down with stability, lowering the spine, vertebra by vertebra. Do not lift your head. Relax in Savasana.
The most popular variation for this pose is Legs-Up-The-Wall which can be done by anyone easily. Instead of supporting the trunk with hands, you move closer to the wall and swing your legs up the wall, allowing your pelvis to rest on the mat or folded blanket or bolster.
The following list of poses is usually considered main or basic Yoga inversions that are taught in Yoga Teacher Training Courses or in Hatha Yoga, Vinyasa and Ashtanga Yoga classes (to regular practitioners).
Sirsasana is also known as the King of asanas as the ancient Yogis believed that the nectar of immortality or amrita is retained in the brain for a longer time. You may need help with lifting your legs as a beginner, thus it is advisable to practice near a wall and under a teacher’s guidance.
Sit in Vajrasana and place your forearms in front, with elbows shoulder-width apart. Interlock your fingers and form an equilateral triangle within the framework of your forearms and elbows. Place the crown of the head between the interlocked fingers and open palms. Let the fingers and palm give firm support to the head while you focus on grounding the head.
Lift the knees and buttocks off the mat, straighten your legs and raise your hips high. Slowly walk the feet as close as possible towards the head, gradually allowing the back to move to a vertical position. Stay steady and keep your neck long and relaxed. For the lift, you can either raise both legs together or raise one leg at a time.
Bend the knees, engage the thighs and transfer the body weight from the toes onto the head and arms. Raise one foot off the floor and place it on the wall, keeping your legs bent. Similarly, bring the other foot on the wall. Stay steady and breathe evenly for a few seconds before you straighten the legs completely to get into the final pose.
As you gain stability in this pose, you can further practice Prasarita Konasana or Baddha Konasana in Sirsasana. Maintaining Ardha Sirsasana position at first makes you aware of a complete sense of balance, which includes not arching the back in and out too much, more pressure on the arms and less on the neck, core and back muscles in action.
Release the posture by slowly bending your knees and lowering the body with control in the reverse order. Rest with your head down on the mat for a short time before sitting upright.
Sarvangasana is also known as the Queen of Asanas. In addition to other inversion benefits, when the chest is pressed against the chin (also in Sarvangasana, Halasana) it stimulates the thyroid gland and regulates reproductive, endocrine, nervous and circulatory systems. It is also beneficial for varicose veins.
Lie on the back with legs straight and feet together. Place the hands beside the body with palms facing down. Press into the arms and begin to raise the legs slowly to a vertical position, slowly rolling the buttock and spine off the mat. Now bend the elbows and place the palms behind the rib-cage, slightly away from the spine to support the back.
Take care to not let the elbows move/widen and keep them shoulder-width apart. Gently push the chest forward so it is pressed firmly against the chin. The body is supported by the shoulders, nape of the neck and the back of the head. Try and relax the feet and the whole body. Close your eyes (optional) and stay for as long as comfortable.
To return, slowly release the position of the hands and place them on the floor while you find stability in the legs. Gradually lower the spine, followed by buttocks and legs. Relax in Savasana until respiration returns to normal. Matsyasana is usually practised as a counterpose to Sarvangasana and Halasana.
Follow the same steps as in Sarvangasana and get the legs to the vertical position. From here, using only abdominal muscles and pressing down on the arms, lower the legs further over the head. Bring the toes towards the floor but do not strain or force the toes to touch the floor. You can practice near a wall and rest your feet on the wall behind instead.
Use your hands to support the back, as in Sarvangasana or place them straight on the mat or interlace them behind your back. For support, bend the elbows and place the palms behind the rib cage. You can also move into this asana immediately after Sarvangasana. If you are comfortable, you can also experiment by moving into a Prasarita Konasana by stretching your legs wide apart. Practice this only if you can comfortably rest your toes on the floor.
Return to a supine position in a similar manner as in Sarvangasana and relax in Savasana. Note that apart from other contraindications listed above for inversions, Halasana and Sarvangasana should not be practised by those suffering from hernia, sciatica, arthritis of the neck or by the elderly/infirm.
From Halasana position, gently bend your knees and bring them close to your ears with your hips raised upwards. Rest the top of your feet on the floor and allow your knees to apply light pressure to the ears.
You can rest your hands on the mat or take your arms around the back of the knee, hold the opposite elbow and lock yourself in this position. This pose helps you experience pratyahara while you hold the pose. It helps you draw the attention inward. Don’t force the knee down. It is fine to keep them up until flexibility improves naturally.
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