Posted on May 12 2018
Inversion poses involve any asanas that lift the feet above the head. Common beginner inversion poses that are well known include Shoulderstand (Salamba Sarvangasana), Half Shoulderstand (Viparita Karani), Headstand (Salamba Shirshasana). But even lying on the floor with your legs on a chair is considered inversion pose.
The concept behind inversion poses is expressed in yoga texts as Viparita Karani. Viparita Karani is translated as meaning "opposite process." This simply means facilitating a different perspective. From the purely physical point of view, this different perspective in inversion poses is literal – in terms of looking at the world from a different physical viewpoint – as well as involving the body being supported in a different way.
But as yoga is more than simply physical exercises, there are other processes that are assisted. A lot of what yoga is is designed to help us change mental habits as well as physical habits. Through increasing our ability to adapt to change, instead of being stuck in old habitual responses, we increase our capacity for growth and transformation. This applies in all areas of our lives.
There is a theoretical concept in yoga about why inversion postures help. Ayurveda considers that many of the body’s impurities are in the lower abdomen. When we raise our feet above the head, gravity is assisting us to move these impurities towards what the Ayurvedic system calls Agni, or ‘fire’. Agni particularly relates to our "digestive fire," and is thus located above our lower abdomen.
So, by being upside down, and by using the deep and slow breathing typical of yoga, we help "burn off" the impurities that were previously stuck.
Improved circulation is a more readily apparent and less "esoteric" benefit of inversion yoga poses.
While inversion postures have many health benefits, the ability of an individual to receive those benefits depends as much on their capacity to comfortably hold these sometimes difficult postures. For example, headstand and shoulderstand should simply not be done if people are pregnant, have neck pain, high or low blood pressure, neck injuries, or are menstruating. And neither of these postures should be attempted without the appropriate preparatory postures. Otherwise, the risk is there that an injury, or stiffness, particularly to the neck area, will result.
Likewise, if doing these postures is very uncomfortable and difficult, more benefit will be derived from doing either the modified versions, or simply working on other yoga poses that strengthen these areas.
There are several important prerequisites for getting the most benefit from inversions. The first one, a strong neck, I’ve mentioned. The others are a strong back and abdominal muscles, and the capacity to breathe well while in the posture. The latter is going to get better with practice, both of yoga itself and the inversions. It is also somewhat tied into having a strong back. Our back and stomach muscles will provide the support to hold the legs straight, which in turn, opens up the thoracic cavity, and increases our ability to breathe well while upside down!
Tips for Practicing Inverted Poses:
There may be fears or a sense of limitation about doing inversion poses that will be confronted. Sometimes, it’s best to start an asana gradually. Shoulder stand comes with a few variations that you can use to build up strength and flexibility, as well as overcome any fear-based feelings about the posture and your ability to do it.
Overcoming the fear, and finally being able to do a difficult pose that you thought you couldn’t, can create positive psychological effects. When we prove to ourselves that our fears don’t bind us, that we can move beyond our limitations, we are more able to make changes in other areas of our lives where before we thought it just wasn’t possible.
References: A.G.Mohan, Yoga for Body, Breath, and Mind
Thanks for reading! For making it to the end, you'll receive 10% off your next purchase with code YOGA10