Inversions vary in their intensity, from mild inversions such as Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) and standing forward bends (Uttanasana) where your head is below your heart, to more extreme inversions such as Shoulder stand (Salamba Sarvangasana) and Head stand (Sirsasana), where your heart is still above your head, as well as your whole lower body.
The benefits of being upside down are many and the greatest inversion, headstand, is often described as being the ‘king of the asanas’.
But why are they so good for us?
We all notice how gravity has an effect on our bodies as we age. Every thing slowly begins to droop towards the ground… Yogis realised that we could counter balance this effect by spending time every day upside down and it is a common agreement that inversions help to slow the aging process.
Inversions also help with venous return. The return of the de-oxygenated blood from the lower body back to the heart and lungs relies on the muscular movement of the veins, working against gravity to return the blood to the lungs to be oxygenated again. Inversions provide a helping hand to the body, assisting with the return of blood to the heart and keeping the oxygenated blood it in the vital organs, the heart and the brain for a little while. The rush of oxygenated blood to the brain improves cognitive functioning- memory, concentration and processing abilities.
Inversions help to flush the lymphatic system, which also relies heavily on muscular movement. Lymph capillaries run next to blood capillaries and lymph picks up toxins and bacteria in the body and delivers it to the lymph nodes to be eliminated. This improves our immune system and thus makes us less susceptible to illness.
Inversions are excellent for relieving swollen ankles and tired legs. If you have been on your feet all day, turning upside down for a few minutes will help to restore and refresh achy limbs.
If your body simply will not allow you to do a shoulder stand or headstand, you can get the same benefits by raising your legs up to 90 degrees and leaning them up against a wall.
Inversions aren’t encouraged if you are pregnant. However, if you have practiced them before your pregnancy and want to continue, it is up to you. But if you have never tried them before, pregnancy isn’t the best time to start practicing headstand! Turning upside down (or the the right way up!) may not be to the taste of your unborn child.
Inversions also aren’t encouraged during menstruation, however this is also up to personal preference. Yogi’s believe they counter act the natural flow of energy and blood from the uterus, and we should be practicing postures to encourage this flow, rather than to reverse it.
Do not practice inversions if you have neck/head injuries, high blood pressure or eye problems such as glaucoma.
And most importantly, listen to your body. If you have any pain whatsoever, do not force yourself to stay in the pose.