Inversion poses involve any asanas that lift the feet above the head. Other inversion poses that are well known include shoulderstand (salamba sarvangasana) and half shoulderstand (viparita karani); but even lying on the floor with your legs up the wall is an inversion pose. The concept behind inversion poses is expressed in yoga texts as viparita karani. Viparita karani is translated as meaning ‘opposite processes. This means facilitating a different perspective. From the purely physical point of view, this different perspective in inversion poses is literal – in terms of looking at the world from a different physical viewpoint – as well as involving the body being supported in a different way.
Yoga is more than simply physical exercises, there are other processes that are assisted. Yoga is designed to help us change mental habits as well as physical habits. Through increasing our ability to adapt to change, instead of being stuck in old habitual responses, we increase our capacity for growth and transformation. This applies in all areas of our lives.
There is a theoretical concept in yoga about why inversion postures help. Ayurveda considers that many of the body’s impurities are in the lower abdomen. When we raise our feet above the head, gravity is assisting us to move these impurities towards what the Ayurvedic system calls agni, or ‘fire’. Agni particularly relates to our ‘digestive fire’, and is thus located above our lower abdomen. So, by being upside down, and by using the deep and slow breathing typical of yoga, we help ‘burn off’ the impurities that were previously stuck. Improved circulation is a more readily apparent and less ‘esoteric’ benefit of inversion yoga poses.
Although inversion postures have many health benefits, the ability to receive those benefits depends as much on one’s capacity to comfortably hold these sometimes difficult postures. For example, headstand and shoulder stand should not be done by women who are pregnant, those who have neck pain, high or low blood pressure, neck injuries, or are menstruating. Neither of these postures should be attempted without the appropriate preparatory postures. Otherwise the risk of injury, or stiffness, particularly to the neck area, will result. Likewise, if doing these postures is uncomfortable or difficult, one should practice the modified versions, or simply work on other yoga poses that strengthen these areas.
Tips for Doing Inverted Postures
For Half Shoulder stand:
* Lengthen the exhale
* don’t lock the chin
* Keep your weight not on the head but on the wrists and elbows
* Don’t try to pull your torso (and legs) vertical like in full shoulder stand if you have difficulties with your neck. By doing so, you’re placing more pressure on your neck.
* Make sure you do the appropriate balancing postures afterwards. These include shalabhasana and bhujangasana
* Don’t worry so much about keeping your elbows and arms parallel. This will create more tension in your neck if you’re not proficient in this posture.
* Do the appropriate balancing postures. These are the same as for half shoulder stand.
* Don’t ever make adjustments whilst in headstand. If you feel your alignment is not quite right, come down and do it again.
* Never do this posture first up, or without the prerequisite postures. It will lead to stiffness in the neck at best, and injury at worst.
This posture is never done traditionally without preparation.
* Use a wall for support as a learning stage
* Support your head with all of your fingers, including the little fingers and thumbs
* Finding the right position for your head will make sure weight is distributed evenly, and ensure you don’t have to overly press down with your elbows to compensate
* Don’t hold your weight too much on the back of your body. It will place too much pressure on your neck.
* Rest your neck before doing the balancing postures, however. Lie down with your legs bent.
* Other balancing postures include chakravakasana, dvipada pitham with the arms, and shalabhasana
There may be fears or a sense of limitation about doing inversion poses that will be confronted. Sometimes, it’s best to start an asana gradually. Most inversion poses offer variations that one can use to build up strength and flexibility, as well as overcome any fear based feelings about the posture and the ability to do it.
*Caution: Do NOT attempt any of these poses if you suffer from neck or shoulder pain/injury. Always seek the advice of your physician prior to beginning any yoga regimen. Remember to practice within your own comfort level as well as, only attempt these poses once you have warmed up.
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