What's Up with Going Upside Down? Why we do Inversions in Yoga

Written By: Rhiannon Kirby, Tula Yoga Studio's Manager & Resident Yoga Instructor

As a kid, most of us have a fearless sense of play. We will climb trees, throw ourselves around like a bouncing ball, swing from playgrounds like spry animals and imagine worlds filled with lava, castles, wild creatures and super powers. It is these exact qualities that first drew me to yoga.

It made me feel like a kid again, strong, playful, resilient, fearless, ultimately exploring the many facets of the self with out judgement.

I say these things because when Maile asked me to write a blog on inversions and why we do them in yoga, these concepts were the first things that came to my mind. Getting upside down in class has the ability to make us all meet the kid inside of us, that part of us that often times gets hidden by the hardships of becoming an adult, the seriousness of growing up.

So the next time you are on your mat, push fear aside, let your adult self visit the kid inside and put yourself upside down. 

Now into the physical benefits of inversions. The act of inverting has many benefits on the physiology of our body.  Yoga master B.K.S. Iyengar believed that inversions allow the body to purge impurities, which facilitates strength, firmness, calmness and clarity of mind. In yoga, the benefits of inversions are based on the principles of opposite processing and the concept that inversions provide a way of looking at the world from a different physical viewpoint in order to facilitate a different perspective. Inversions alter the flow of cerebral spinal fluid, and allow blood to drain from the lower body to allow bring fresh blood to cycle throughout the tissues and organs of the body. Below is a more detailed list of the physical benefits of an inversion practice:

Circulatory System: As our body is upside down, the blood flow momentarily reverses directions, giving our heart a moment to slow down, a breather, reducing blood pressure and heart rate. When we become upright again, fresh blood and oxygen pump through the body, carrying nutrients, ready to help heal and support our bodies systems and functions.

Acts as an Anti-depressant: Inversions literally turn your frown upside down. Flushing the adrenal glands stimulates the release of neurotransmitters and endorphins that allow you to immediately feel uplifted and can counteract depression, mood swings and seasonal affective disorder. Plus it’s fun, so naturally it can elevate your mood.

Brain function: The brain uses about 25% of the body’s oxygen, so when the brain lacks a sufficient supply of blood, the body becomes slow and sluggish. Increasing blood flow nourishes brain cells with more oxygen resulting in improved concentration, memory and awareness. The brain is flushed with nourishing blood. Once settled into an inversion, there is the space to create a moment of meditation, things seem to become more still yet awake. 

Digestion: When you invert your body, you allow the stool that is moving from the ileocecal valve through the colon to move with the force of gravity. This encourages action and pressure on the walls of the digestive tract, stimulating it and supporting its function.

Immune system: Inversions help to stimulate lymphatic cleansing and drainage which clears toxins from the tissues and plays a vital role in improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the immune system.

Skin: Reversing gravity flushes fresh nutrients and oxygen to the face, activating the facial capillaries, hair follicles of the scalp, and helps remove visual signs of toxicity (including acne), giving your skin a natural and healthy glow.

Sleep: Muscle tension can contribute to feelings of anxiety as well as insomnia so it’s important to flush it from your body. Finding the calm state, inversions can provide sparks the parasympathetic nervous system, which produces feelings of relaxation and calmness in the mind and physical body because the nerves begin to quiet down, thus giving us a space for better rest.

Perhaps one of my favorite parts of inversions, besides accessing my inner child, is that

...it puts our hearts above our heads, even for just a moment in time.

I think all of us as individuals and the world can use just a little bit more of that every day. Everything in our body is connected, is one, in union (also the translation of the word Yoga).

A mindful inversion practice helps to support us as a whole; mind, body and spirit.

So whether your doing a self practice, or in a class, explore getting upside down and start to soak in and observe all its benefits. 

Rhiannon - adho mukha vrksasana owen alchemy .jpg

Inversions to explore:

Viparita Karani: legs up the wall

Salamba Sarvangasana: Shoulder stand

Salamba Sirsasana I: Headstand

Salamba Sirsasana II: Tripod Headstand

Adho Mukha Vrksanasna: Handstand

Pincha Mayurasana: Forearm Stand

Here at Tula, our teachers will happily support you in your inversion explorations, from modified to advanced, just ask us, we are ready to play.

This month we are offering two workshops that can help introduce you to inversions or strengthen your inversion practice:

Sat Jan 16th: PLAYshop with Cassi and Veronica 4pm

Sat Jan 30th: Inversion Intensive with Rich Logan 2:30pm