Ask a Yogini: Why Practice Yoga Inversions?

Have you ever wondered why you should practice inversions like handstand, headstand or forearmstand in yoga? Aside from looking cool, there are a number of benefits to incorporating these poses into your yoga practice and yoga workout. (#2 was a surprise to me!)

It’s the first Monday of the month and that means it’s time to Ask a Yogini. Each month, I’ll answer a question about yoga – anything that you’re curious about. Chances are, if you have the question, someone else does too!

Disclaimer: While I am a certified yoga instructor, I am not your yoga instructor. Please exercise caution and honor your own body. These views are mine alone, based on my own experiences. Always consult a certified yoga instructor for additional guidance and assistance.

Have you ever wondered why you should practice inversions like handstand, headstand or forearmstand in yoga? Aside from looking cool, there are a number of benefits to incorporating these poses into your yoga practice and yoga workout. (#2 was a surprise to me!)

If you look at Instagram, it often seems like yoga is all about practicing inversions – handstands, headstands, forearm stands, etc. However, inversions are just one of several classes of postures in yoga – inversions, standing postures, balancing postures, forward bends, twists, backbends, seated postures, hip openers and arm balances.

And they are an important part of a well-rounded yoga practice.

Inversions like handstands and forearm stands can be exhilarating and heat building, and they can activate the sympathetic nervous system (i.e. your flight-or-fight response). Inversions like headstands and shoulderstands (especially when they are included in a closing sequence of a yoga practice) can be calming and can activate the parasympathetic nervous system (i.e. rest-and-digest response). Practicing inversions can bring up a lot of fear and anxiety. They can also build confidence.

Technically, an inversion in yoga is anything that brings your hips above your heart and your heart above your head. Downward-facing dog can be considered an inversion.

Have you ever wondered why you should practice inversions like handstand, headstand or forearmstand in yoga? Aside from looking cool, there are a number of benefits to incorporating these poses into your yoga practice and yoga workout. (#2 was a surprise to me!)

There are a number of benefits of practicing yoga inversions.

1. Gives your heart a break

When you are upright, gravity pulls the tissues and fluids in your body downwards, including blood. In order to return deoxygenated blood back to the heart, your heart has to work hard to help pump the fluid upwards and against gravity. When you are upside down, you reverse the blood flow in your body and it encourages venous return – the return of blood flow back to the heart. As a result, your heart doesn’t have to work as hard.

2. Helps your lymphatic system

In a similar way, inversions in yoga encourages the flow of lymph back to the heart. Your lymphatic system is a key part of your immune system. It’s like a big drainage system in your body, collecting extra lymph from body tissues and helping to fight infection. However, the lymph system relies on movement and pressure to move the lymph fluid. Inversions help encourage the flow of lymph back to the heart.

3. Energizes you and builds confidence

This reason is less biological and more psychological. When you hit a handstand for the first time, there’s no other feeling like it. It’s energizing and makes you feel confident.

4. Improves your balance

Inversions add another dimension to balance training. It also forces you to learn to sense your body in space in a different way (proprioception). For me, I have a really hard time sense up from down, left from right when I’m upside-down. Inversions help me create better body awareness.

5. Builds core strength

It seems like everything builds core strength these days but inversions in yoga really do. When we stand, we can get away with being lazy in our posture and let our core sag. You can’t really do that when you’re upside-down and you have to engage your core in order to stay upright.

6. Forces you to focus

It’s really hard not to focus when you are trying to balance your body while upside-down.

7. Releases your ego and helps you practice non-attachment

Because inversions are hard and humbling and tough, it’s a great way to practice non-attachment. It’s not about nailing the pose or doing some complicated variation of the pose. It’s about being in the moment and knowing that you can’t just muscle your way upside-down. I mean, you could but it’s wouldn’t be the best thing for you physically or mentally.

8. Provides a new perspective

Literally, flipping yourself on your head provides you with a new physical perspective that often bleeds into your every day life. Combined with #7, you can start to see things a bit more clearly and your priorities become clear.

 Have you ever wondered why you should practice inversions like handstand, headstand or forearmstand in yoga? Aside from looking cool, there are a number of benefits to incorporating these poses into your yoga practice and yoga workout. (#2 was a surprise to me!)

But here’s the thing, inversions aren’t for everyone. I’ve definitely struggled with inversion aversion. Inversions aren’t a merit badge that you earn on your way to being a yogi. There is no rush to get upside-down.

Build up to it and work on the postures that will help you get there. Modify when necessary and use props if you need to. For example, I  typically recommend using two blankets for shoulderstand.

Also? Please focus on alignment. Half expressions of inversions are a great place to work the pose, hone alignment and receive many of the benefits without being fully inverted. This includes downward-facing dog for handstand, dolphin pose for forearm stand and bridge pose for shoulderstand. Legs-Up-The-Wall pose is always a great option.

Know that your yoga inversion practice will change over time and even day-to-day.

Do you practice yoga inversions? Do you have other questions about yoga? Let me know!

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Comments

    • says

      Yes! I used to be terrified of hurting my neck. Yoga definitely feels competitive more often than it should but there is no need at all to rush to do inversions if you don’t feel comfortable. If and when you do, it will happen but until then, it’s so much smarted to spend time honing your downward facing dog and dolphin pose and getting stronger there.

  1. says

    Inversions is NOT my favorite thing. I have only ever successfully done one head stand properly, and have since been, well, adverse.

    After the twins are born, I promise to give inversions another go. :)
    Alison recently posted..The Art of MotheringMy Profile

  2. says

    Inversions of the handstand variety have always been my nemesis. It’s taken some time but I’m getting more comfortable about being upside down. I’ve still got a ways to go before I’ll do one without a wall or a spotter. Thanks for the good reasons why to do inversions. Very cool info!
    Angela @ Happy Fit Mama recently posted..Marvelous is…My Profile

  3. says

    I’ve never tried an inversion! I am totally fascinated by all of the health benefits, though, especially giving your heart a break.
    And I always love a new perspective. If only I could learn to take photos while doing an inversion.
    Tamara recently posted..My Writing Process.My Profile

  4. says

    That was the BEST explanation of why we need to do inversions. EVER! A friend of mine takes yoga a studio near by. I think I’ll have to buy myself a monthly pass. I need to get upside-down again.

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