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I recently came across an article about one man’s experience with inversions throughout his yoga practice. And it got me thinking, why do we practice inversions in yoga? Should every yogi invert? How does one practice inversions safely? If you’ve recently started a yoga practice, you’ve probably seen yogis doing inversions, aka going upside down, aka standing on their heads. And if you are an upside down yogi, you can probably recall how it felt to do your first inversion. No matter where you are in your practice, whether or not to invert is your own choice.

So what is an inversion? An inversion is any asana, or posture, in which the head is below the heart. Thus causing a reversal of blood flow and reversing the effects of gravity. You may already be doing an inversion and not even know it. Inversions include downward facing dog, legs up the wall, forward fold, and happy baby. Other inversions include tripod headstand, supported headstand, and handstand. In each of these poses, the flow of blood is reversed and gravity’s effect is reversed on the body.

Why practice inversions? There are a lot of reasons why inversions are beneficial to your practice. A few of them include:

  1. Inversions reverse the flow of blood in the body thus helping our lymphatic system and improving circulation.
  2. Going upside down changes your perspective on your practice. You’ve probably heard that what is going on in your life will show up on your mat. Well, inversions help you take a different perspective on yourself and your body.
  3. Because the effects of gravity are reversed, your body must compensate in different ways to keep you balanced. In doing so, you develop strength, improve coordination, and increase balance and stability. Both on and off your mat.
  4. And last, but not least, inversions are fun! Inversions, and the process it takes to get into them, teach us to lighten up and help us remember what it’s like to float and fly. Almost like being a kid.

With that said, don’t stop reading this and go attempt a headstand. Inversions are not to be taken lightly. If you are truly going upside down in, say a headstand, you have to be mindful of your body and not bear the brunt of your weight on your head. If you are just starting a yoga practice, build your strength and breath awareness in inversions such as legs up the wall or downward facing dog. If you have been practicing for a while and are comfortable with your body and breath, then GO SLOWLY. When you are ready to try a headstand, handstand, or shoulder stand seek out your yoga teacher.  S/he can help guide you and keep you safe.  A couple of tips before practicing any inversion:

  1. Warm up by working your core, opening your shoulders, and focusing on your breath. Remember, no breath, no yoga.
  2. Take your time and move one step at a time. Resist the urge to kick up on your first try. Each inversion happens in a series of postures. Work on each posture and get comfortable with it before moving to the next.
  3. Props are your best friend. These include blocks, a wall, or even a friend. Use them to gain proper alignment and learn how your body responds.
  4. After your inversion, take child’s pose or wide-legged forward fold to regroup.

Remember to take it slow and stop if you feel any sudden pain or lose your breath. Ask your teacher questions – that’s what they’re there for. And if you don’t want to go upside down, that’s fine too. It is, after all, your practice.