If the idea of having your world turned upside down sounds like a bad one, think again. Inversions—that would be headstands, handstands, shoulder stands or any position where your heart is higher than your head—are central to the practice of yoga since they offer such varied benefits.

B.K.S. Iyengar, the late founder of the Iyengar style of yoga, which focuses on precision and alignment within each pose, said “sarvangasana (a supported shoulder stand) is one of the greatest boons conferred on humanity by our ancient sages.” He believed inversions to have a purifying effect since they can increase the flow of blood, and thus oxygen, to the brain as well as stimulate the lymphatic system.

Another reason inversions are so beloved is they can provide a boost of energy when you’ve hit a slump. For road-weary travelers, a simple ‘legs up the wall’ or ‘down dog’ pose (yes, that’s an inversion) makes for a nice alternative to caffeine or sugar.

What other perks are there to a shift in perspective? Read on for our roundup.

Reversing gravity
We spend a lot of time on our feet and sitting down, and gravity sometimes can feel like its taking a toll. Reversing its pull on the body with an inversion can feel like a boost to your circulatory and respiratory system. Performing a headstand, handstand, or shoulder stand can also take pressure off your spine, temporarily increasing the distance between vertebrae. Some people find inversions to relieve back pain.

Finding balance
When your legs are in the air, especially if there’s no wall there to support you, your core, specifically your obliques and the transverse abdominus, are working hard to achieve balance. But perhaps more importantly, your mind is engaged in the deceptively simple task of not toppling over. Inversions are a great time to connect ones thoughts and emotions to the physical self.

Building strength and confidence
Headstand, or sirsasana, is not exactly a beginner’s pose. Yogis gradually build up to it, developing strength in the arms and core, concentration and confidence over time. And sure, kicking up to a handstand feels daunting the first couple of times, but once you find your groove, it’s a confidence-booster like no other.

Remembering humor and humility
Finally, going upside down is a great reminder to not take life too seriously. In the course of learning more complicated posts like handstands and headstands, there’s a good deal of falling involved. Learning to fall with grace is valuable skill in and of itself.

Tips: Start gradually and practice under the supervision of a trustworthy teacher. If you are a beginner or have any neck, back or spine issues—or any other health concerns—it’s best to check in with your doctor before starting your inversion practice.

 

Author: Hallie Davison