Have you ever wondered why we practice inversions in yoga? And what are inversions, exactly? When you think of inversions, you probably think of headstands, handstands and shoulder stands. Yes, those are all inversions. But any pose where your head is below your heart is an inversion.
So, yes, a standing forward bend is an inversion. So is downward-facing dog and dolphin. You’re also doing and inversion when you lie on your back and lift your legs using a strap or place your legs against a wall.
Why We Practice Inversions in Yoga
Inversions are not just advanced poses that make us look like awesome yogis. The reason we practice inversions is because they have many benefits. Physically, inversions help with digestion by reversing the flow of gravity. When you’re inverted, blood can flow more easily to your brain, which helps your mental acuity and eyesight. You may find your ability to concentrate is better when you practice inversions regularly.
If you have excess fluid in your legs or varicose veins, inversions can help take the pressure off your lower extremities and reduce swelling. Practicing inversions in yoga can also help strengthen your core. You’ll need a strong core to stay upside-down, after all!
Inversions may help keep your heart healthy as well. The poses reverse our usual position and encourage blood to flow more readily through places where it may typically be sluggish. The lower lungs, which tend to get compressed in our normal upright (but usually hunched over or slouchy) position, have extra room to expand when we turn upside-down.
Practicing Inversions Safely
It’s probably obvious that you need to practice inversions safely. I would not recommend learning to do advanced inversions—especially headstand—on your own. While some consider it the “king of poses,” headstand practiced carelessly (for example, without proper alignment) can cause problems, so learn this pose with a qualified teacher!
There are a few props that can make headstands and other inversions easier (and maybe more fun). For example, using blocks to do a headstand can help take the pressure off your head and neck. (Note that even though the pose is called headstand, you are not actually stand on your head.)
That Head Over Heels Feeling
Next time you do any kind of inversion, notice how you feel right after you do the pose. Is your mind clearer? Do you have more energy? Do you feel stronger? You may even feel braver!
Most yoga students have some fear of inversions like handstand and headstand in the beginning. Conquering that fear is an experience we can take off the mat and into the world. It feels great to finally do something we didn’t think we could do or were afraid to try!
But even if you never do the more “advanced” inversions in yoga, there are subtle benefits from turning upside-down on a regular basis. It can help you learn adapt when life turns you upside-down in other ways.
While there’s no hard science to prove it, we yogis know that the physical practice translates to life off the mat in real ways.