I have always loved going upside down. Regardless of whether I was on the ground, in the water or in the air, since I was just a wee one I have loved it. Because joyful inversions found their way to me early on in life I probably lack a particular fear that comes with them that others naturally have, but fear not my friends, this is something that can be overcome!
I suggest that it can and should be overcome because a) being afraid of things is no fun and can be unnecessarily stressful, and b)there are incredible health benefits associated with inverting your body.
Going upside down is SO healthy for SO many reasons. Let's go over a few:
- Flushes the Adrenal Glands
- Going upside down helps relieve the adrenal glands which are responsible for our often over stimulated stress response mechanisms. They usually make us happy as well which is definitely a depression antidote.
- Improves Blood Circulation
- It gives the heart a rest while encouraging movement of stagnant blood
- Improves Brain Function
- Inversions increase the flow of nutrient rich oxygenated blood to the brain improving concentration, memory and clear thinking.
- Improves Digestion
- By reversing gravity any stagnation in the colon may be reversed and the digestive fire is stoked improving movement in your guts
- Boosts Immunity
- As inverting helps clean up the blood it allows for the body to be flooded with healthy, more nutrified cells that are better able to protect you from foreign invaders.
- Builds Core Strength
- Being able to maintain many weight bearing inversions require a strong core. A strong core is essential for good posture and total body alignment that prevents injury.
- Makes you even more beautiful!
- Being upside down improves the circulation of blood in your scalp helping hair retain its natural colour, it flips gravity on your face for a natural facelift, it improves your vision, makes your skin more radiant and can make you taller!
If you are just getting started on your inversion practice don't worry, no one is expected to go from standing to pressing to handstand overnight! Instead you can start reaping the benefits of an inversion practice right away starting small and working your way up.
One way to get started is with Viparita Karani or legs up the wall pose. This pose is exactly as it sounds. Shimmy your bum up against a wall while laying on your back and straighten your legs up the wall. If your hamstrings are quite tight feel free to put a block or a rolled up blanket under your sacrum for some relief. Just like that, voila! You are already reaping the benefits of being upside down! This position is one of my favourites for winding down after a long day, slowing down the mind before bed or even as an alternative position for savasana.
Another beginner inversion is Prasarita Padottanasana or wide legged forward fold. To attain this pose stand with your feet wide so that if you were to extend your arms out like a 'T' your ankles would be in line with your wrists. From here, place your hands on your hips and hinge forward placing your hands on the ground in front of you. You want to keep length in your spine so if you begin rounding through your low back place blocks beneath your hands for some extra height. Where you are eventually going here is to place the crown of your head between your feet. In this position you get all the juicy spine extension you could ask for along with a gentle hamstring stretch and a strengthening of the arches and inner thighs. I like to hold my elbows and totally just hang out.
A more advanced inversion is a headstand. There are many handstand variations but the two most commonly known are the tripod headstand or the more traditional Salamba Sirsasana or supported headstand. In sirsasana the crown of the head is placed on the ground and the hands are cupped around the back of the head with the forearms pushing into the floor. The forearms bare the weight of your inverted body in this position, NOT your neck which is very important. With pressure in the forearms the legs are straightened into a downward dog position and walked toward the face until the hips are stacked above the shoulders. This is important is it is an indication that the core is strong enough to support the rest of the body. From here the feet can be plucked off the ground and raised up in a pike position until the feet are stacked over the hips and hips over shoulders with the core supporting the entire structure. Alternatively the knees can be bent and the feet raised off the ground so that the knees are hovering against the chest. From here the hips can slowly rock back until the knees are stacked over the hips and then the legs straightened into the air. Headstand is a position that should be practiced slowly and incrementally and preferably with a qualified teacher to help you ensure the safety of your neck.
Once you are in a headstand maintain the strength of your core and breathe into the juicy weightless feeling you the blood drains from your feet and your spine takes a much needed rest in its flipped position.
Now for my favourite variety of inversion the almighty Adho Mukha Svanasana or handstand. While handstands may seem to be a major feat of balance they are actually much more related so strength. This strength comes from the whole body from the hands to the shoulder girdle, to the core right up through the inner lines of your legs to your feet. It truly is a fully body experience with fantastic health benefits most of all from the pure joy it feels to be freely standing on your hands.
There are many fantastic ways to practice handstands. They can be done against a wall, with a friend or free standing. I think all three have their merits but lets talk about free standing handstands as they are incredibly important to practice if you sincerely want to get over the fear of falling backward.
One wonderful way to get into your handstand is to step and lift into it. To achieve this plant your hands firmly on the ground shoulder width apart with your fingers spread wide and the pads of your fingers firmly attached to the ground like a gecko. Your drishti or focal point should be about six inches in front of your hands and acts like a third point of contact. From a downward dog position walk your feet about half way to your hands and lift one straight leg, pushing through the ball of your foot while keeping your hips square. This is immensely easier if you start with your shoulders already stacked above your wrists. Gently swing your extended leg and lift off of your grounded foot using your core to control the lift and using your fingers like brakes if you kick too hard. You can keep one leg up and the other leg parallel to the ground if you wish while practicing but the end goal is to lift your bottom leg to meet the top. The key to maintaining your free standing handstand is to use your whole hand to support you, keep your arms straight, your core and inner thighs engaged and most importantly don't forget to breathe!
No matter where you are at in your fitness routine remember that you can always benefit from going upside down!
Check out @epicself on Instagram for more handstand inspiration!