Life upside down: enjoying yoga inversions

Since I posted a week ago about doing yoga 10 days in a row, I’ve been feeling psyched (and yes, sometimes pressured, but it’s also a form of motivation) about doing some yoga every day.  It’s starting to become a routine before I go to bed.

What I love the most about this routine (in addition to how it helps me feel less creaky) is that I get to choose what yoga I do.  When I take classes, I go through a practice that is systematic, or comprehensive, or otherwise well-grounded in views about what a yoga workout looks like.  But when it’s up to me, I feel like (at this point in my everyday-yoga practice) that I can do exactly what I want.  It’s kind of like choosing my favorite dessert each night.  Yes, we should balance our exercise diets, but for now, my only goal is consistency.  So I’m going for the good stuff.

So what’s the good yoga stuff, according to me?

One word:  Inversions.  

What are inversions?  Here is what Yoga Journal has to say about it:

Considering most of our lives are spent with our heads held high, legs below, reversing this arrangement feels like a refreshing change of pace. Plus, it’s got lots of benefits. For starters, inversions build upper-body strength, balance, and confidence, and they prompt you to see the world from a new perspective (literally!). Moving into postures where your head is lower than your heart also helps to prevent lymphatic fluid from pooling in your legs (a result of our upright lives), while increasing circulation to your brain—a combo that instantly boosts energy. Then, there’s the fact that inversions can be just plain fun. They give us an opportunity to get a little playful with our practice and not take ourselves so seriously.

Some inverted postures are considered advanced, as they require some strength and care to prevent injury to neck, back and shoulders.  So don’t try these on your own before you’ve had some instruction.  That said, here are some of my favorites:

In Laura’s post about 100 days of yoga, she talks about doing legs-up-the-wall when she couldn’t do any other pose.  I do this every day, as it’s one of the most restful and pleasurable positions for me.  Here it is:

A woman lying on the floor, face up, with arms spread out in a T, and legs up and against a wall. Her butt is on a cushion against the wall.

A woman lying on the floor, face up, with arms spread out in a T, and legs up and against a wall. Her butt is on a cushion against the wall.

One of my favorite variants on this pose is the waterfall pose, in which your legs are in the air, and your butt is resting on a yoga block or cushion.  It is incredibly restful and also energizing for your legs.  Here’s what it looks like:

A woman lying on the floor, a yoga block under her sacrum (lower spine, near buttocks), with legs in the air and arms spread apart.

A woman lying on the floor, a yoga block under her sacrum (lower spine, near buttocks), with legs in the air and arms spread apart.

This pose may look like it takes some effort, but it is super relaxing.  You adjust the block (or cushion) so that your legs can hang in the air with no effort at all.  I could stay in this pose for hours (well, sort of).

Most of the rest of the inverted postures are pretty active ones.  I love downward facing dog, which is this one:

Yogi Jessamyn Stanley in downward dog, with legs on a mat, hips in the air, head down, and arms on the mat, in an inverted V.

Yogi Jessamyn Stanley in downward dog, with legs on a mat, hips in the air, head down, and arms on the mat, in an inverted V.

It took a while to figure out how to hang out in this pose without lots of pressure on my wrists and shoulders.  The key is lifting the hips up and back, imagining making length in your vertebra.  This process somehow (at least for me) sends the hips and legs back, and the strength of those muscles (which are meant to carry us and hold us up) takes care of everything.  You just hang out and breathe.

Another inverted pose that makes me very happy is forward fold.  Here’s Jessamyn Stanley again, showing it with soft knees (which is protective of our tender joints).

Screen Shot 2017-10-22 at 1.58.31 PM

Yogi Jessamyn Stanley, in forward fold. She is standing on a mat, bent over forward, knees slightly bent, hands down, with arms hanging down by her sides.

 

There are also a bunch of advanced yoga inversions– headstands, handstands, shoulder stands, the plow and wheel poses– I could go on.  I hope to do some of these sometime.  But not tonight or tomorrow.  Which is okay, because I get to go upside down in whatever ways I want.

About catherine w

I'm an analytic philosopher, retooled as a public health ethicist. I'm interested in heath behavior change, particularly around eating and activity, and how things other than knowledge affect our health decisions.I'm also a cyclist (road, off-road, commuter), squash player, x skier, occasional yoga-doer, hiker, swimmer and leisurely walker.

2 thoughts on “Life upside down: enjoying yoga inversions

  1. bone&silver says:

    Inspired me! I’m going upside down tonight : )

    Like

  2. janet says:

    My favorite is gorilla! There’s something so novel about feeling my feet on my hands and my toes tickling my wrists and very pleasurable.

    Like

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