In yoga practice, an inversion pose is any position where the heart is higher than the head. Therefore, an inversion can be anything from simple poses such as downward-facing dog, to the trickier and more complex, such as forearm balances and handstands. The latter are often some of the hardest yoga poses to master, requiring strength, balance and often years of practice.
However, the good news is you don’t need to be a master yogi to reap the benefits of inversions, as even the simplest inversion postures can work wonders on the mind and body.
In this guide, we reveal why the simple act of being upside down is so beneficial for your health. We also look at some basic inversions to get you started and provide useful tips to help you work up to those more challenging poses.
Why are inversions important?
So, let’s start with the big question first. Why are inversions so important? You might be surprised to know that there’s actually a number of reasons why spending time upside down can be beneficial for your health.
Boosts energy levels
Elevating the heart above the head helps increase the flow of oxygenated blood to the brain. This stimulation can often make you feel instantly more energised and can also be an effective way to reduce symptoms of depression.
Lowers blood pressure
Inversions can also help lower blood pressure, as your heart doesn’t have to work as hard to pump the blood around your body. As a result, you may notice your heart rate slow and feel an increased sense of calm as you begin to relax into your inversion poses.
Reduces stress and anxiety
Inversions have also been proven effective at calming the nervous system helping to ease anxiety and stress. So next time you’re feeling agitated or anxious, try and find a quiet place and practice a calming inversion pose - you might be surprised by the difference it can make.
Being upside-down can feel a little scary at first and if you’re practising one of the more challenging inversions, it’s likely you’ll experience a few falls along the way. However, pushing yourself out of your comfort zone is important and with regular practice, your confidence will grow from strength to strength. And once you eventually get there, you’ll feel a fantastic sense of achievement.
Inversions to try at home
Downward facing dog
One of the most widely used poses across all styles of yoga, downward-facing dog is a great full-body stretch that targets your calves and hamstrings, whilst also lengthening the spine. It’s also a great inversion pose for beginners as it requires little effort in the way of strength and balance.
There are a number of ways you can get into this pose, however, we recommend starting in a table-top position with your hands underneath your shoulders and your knees stacked under your hips. Spread your fingers tips wide and press evenly through your fingertips, tuck your toes and lift your hips up and back.
If you suffer from tight calves or hamstrings, it may be more difficult to hold this pose for long intervals at first, but don’t worry, with a little practice, you’ll quickly find it gets easier.
This is a great pose for opening up the heart and shoulders whilst encouraging blood flow to the brain, leaving you feeling refreshed and energised.
To enter fish pose, lie down on your back with your legs extended in front of you, allowing a slight bend in the knees. Place your hands under your seatbones with your elbows touching the floor, and on an inhale, slowly press into the elbows and lift your chest. Then, carefully tilt your chin back and allow the back of your head to rest on the floor.
Props can be a great addition to this pose. For example, try placing one of our cork yoga blocks between your shoulder blades for a more restorative variation.
Or if you want an even deeper stretch, why not try our cork yoga wheel? Just place the wheel behind your back and extend your spine over the top of the wheel. This will raise your chest higher above your head, creating a more intense inversion, in addition to providing a soothing massage for your spine.
If you want to try a slightly more challenging inversion, a headstand is a good place to start.
In order to practice this pose safely, it’s important to create a solid foundation using your arms and shoulders, as they will be supporting the majority of your weight in this pose.
To find your alignment, we recommend starting in a tabletop position with your palms facing down and your wrists under your shoulders. From here, drop your elbows so that you are resting on your forearms and interlace your fingers to create a triangle shape with your arms.
Rest the top part of your head between your palms, tuck your toes under and lift your seat bones up. Then walk your feet towards your head, and slowly transfer your weight into your arms - try to avoid putting weight through your head. Finally, bring your knees up and slowly straighten your legs.
This pose can take a bit of practice, and if you’re struggling to maintain your balance it’s a good idea to practice against a wall for support.
Once you’ve safely mastered headstand, you may feel confident enough to give handstands a try. However, before attempting to go straight into the full pose, we recommend practising this L-shaped variation first.
Before you begin, you should first use a marker to measure how far from the wall your hands should be. You can do this by sitting with your legs extended and your feet flat against the wall. Place a marker next to your hips, for example, a block or a cushion, then turn around and place your hands next to your maker.
Slowly begin to transfer your weight evenly into your hands. As you do this, lift your legs so your feet are touching the wall and gradually walk your feet up the wall until your legs are parallel to the ground. Then, slowly straighten your legs to create an L-shape.
Once you’re comfortable with the L-shaped handstand, you can progress to the full handstand.
First, begin in downward facing dog and walk your feet towards your hands. As you do this, lift your heels so only the tips of your toes touch the ground and slowly begin to transfer your weight into your hands. Keep your core engaged, and as you press through the hands, allow your legs to float out to the sides. You’re almost there.
Now for the final step, very slowly bring your legs together and stretch your toes towards the sky and TA-DA!
Sounds simple right? However, as we’ve said before, mastering a full handstand can take a lot of time so work up to it slowly and don’t expect results straight away. And remember, you can still enjoy all the benefits of a handstand by practising the simple inversions mentioned above. Good luck!