Benefits of Inversions

headstand

Inversions can be extremely intimidating and unnerving to any yogi. I know I was initially, but I also was beaming with pride and had a strong sense of accomplishment the day I nailed my first headstand.  Inversions are more than confidence boosters; they are also rich in health benefits both physically and mentally.

By definition inversion poses are any asanas that shifts the pull of gravity from the feet to the head. Some common examples are headstand (Sirsasana), shoulderstand (Salamba Sarvangasana), and legs up the wall pose (Viparita Karani). Others believe an inversion also includes any pose that change the relationship between the heart and the pelvis. This definition would also include asanas like downward facing dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) and standing forward bend (Uttanasana) as an inversion.

From a philosophical perspective inversions force you to view the world from a different perspective; teaching compassion and cultivating a stronger understanding of others. From a physical perspective this means literally a different perspective.  Inversions are a physical reminder that there is always more than one way to look at a situation.

From a medical perspective, inversions have many health benefits:

  • Heating inversions, like headstand, handstand or forearm balances, reverse the blood flow in the body by using gravity to provide more oxygen and blood to the brain resulting in improved circulation and an increase in mental function including improved concentration and memory.[1] 

  • Cooling inversions like shoulderstand or legs up the wall pose activate the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) resulting in feelings of relaxation and calm.  PNS lowers your breath and heart rate, decreases blood pressure, and increases blood flow to internal organs resulting in deep relaxation.[2]

  • Inversions stimulate the lymphatic system resulting in a stronger immune system preventing illness.  The lymphatic system circulates lymph fluids, fluid rich in lymphocytes and other immune-system cells, throughout the body.  This system helps fight off infection and helps dispose of toxins in the body.

    Whenever you contract or stretch muscles or come in and out of yoga postures, the lymph flow improves, increasing the function of the lymphatic system.[3]

  • When you invert you release endorphins into the nervous system where these biochemical substances interact with opiate receptors to reduce your perception of pain and stimulate feelings of euphoria and well-being. [4]

You don’t have to do advanced inversion poses to reap the benefits of an inversion.  All you need is the will to try and maybe an empty wall for support!

** Note:  While inversions have many health benefits, you may want to substitute them for another pose if you have neck and head injuries, high or low blood pressure, or eye problems like glaucoma.  Listen to your body and consult with your physician for any questions or concerns regarding inversions and your health.

[1] “All about Yoga Inversions”, last modified November 27, 2013, http://www.ekhartyoga.com/blog/all-about-yoga-inversions

[2] “All about Yoga Inversions”, last modified November 27, 2013, http://www.ekhartyoga.com/blog/all-about-yoga-inversions

[3] Timothy McCall, M.D., Yoga as Medicine: The Yogic Prescription for Health and Healing (Bantam Dell, 2007), 37.

[4] “What are Endorphins?” last modified May 27, 2014, http://sportsmedicine.about.com/od/glossary/g/Endorphins.htm