Trusting, letting go and turning things upside down often seems a little scary. But like most things once we conquer the initial fear and hesitation, we open to a whole array of experiences and positives. Just as the practice of yoga (on and off the mat) encourages us to move further away from our old habits and comfort zones, inviting us to examine things differently, yoga inversions are a great way to challenge ourselves emotionally, mentally and physically and view the world from a new perspective. This step by step guide to yoga inversions for beginners shows you how to practice inversions at your own pace.
What Are Yoga Inversions?
So what exactly is an inversion? Typically, an inversion is any posture where the head is below the heart. While handstands, forearm stands and other exotic variations may spring to mind there are a number of accessible and gentler inverted poses (including downward dog, half bridge, and legs up the wall) for the friends newer to yoga, or those wanting a more restorative practice.
Although the benefits of yoga inversions are huge, when including inversions in our yoga practice it’s essential we learn the correct set up and alignment of each posture to ensure we receive the maximum benefits and most importantly prevent injury, especially on the back and neck. If you have a history of high blood pressure, heart problems or have had a neck or spine injury, practicing inversions with caution and the assistance of a yoga teacher is recommended.
There is also a lot of debate around women practicing inversions during their moon days. My general recommendation is to avoid practising more dynamic inverted postures during the first few days of a woman’s menstrual cycle, as turning the body upside down goes against the body’s natural rhythm during this time. In saying this, no one knows your body like you do, so most importantly listen to your body as you move through the cycle mindfully and tailor your practice to how you feel, and to how you feel best.
The Benefits of Yoga Inversions
Here are 10 reasons why turning upside down is not only fun, but also very good for the health and vitality of your body and mind.
- Improves circulation and brain activity – flushing refreshed blood and nutrients around the whole body, especially the brain.
- Gives the heart a break – as the heart is constantly working to pump blood upward towards the brain, inversions assist in the flow of blood to the brain, with little work from the heart.
- Improves immunity – inversions help to stimulate lymphatic cleansing and drainage which assists in clearing toxins from the body.
- Stimulates the nervous system – increasing mental alertness and clarity.
- Natural antidepressant – flushing the adrenal glands stimulating the release of endorphins.
- Glowing skin – by reversing the flow and ageing force of gravity, new oxygen stimulates the capillaries in the skin and face.
- Increases the digestive fire – aiding the digestive and elimination process.
- Energises the body – increasing core strength and improves posture.
- Calms the mind – relieving stress, assisting with better seep patterns.
- Builds confidence – and most importantly is fun!
How to Do Yoga Inversions Safely
- Practice safely and mindfully – Start gradually with variations that allow you to build up strength and flexibility. Try using a wall for support to begin before freestanding.
- Be aware of your body in alignment – If you feel like your alignment is not quite right, come out of your inversion first, make the adjustments and then come back into the pose. Avoid making adjustments while inverted.
- Work through this list of yoga inversions one at a time, taking care to rest between each new pose, without rushing your body.
Yoga Inversions for Beginners
Downward Dog (Ardho Mukha Svanasana)
- Begin in Child’s Pose (sitting back on your feet, arms outstretched, head to the floor), reaching both hands forward, tucking the toes under, pressing evenly into the hands and feet – lifting your hips up towards the sky.
- Spreading the fingers, press the hips back, reaching the chest towards the thighs, maintaining a long spine.
- Check in with the hands and feet – make sure they’re hip width apart, relax the neck, looking back towards the thighs.
- Try lifting one leg high to the sky, repeat other side.
- To come out, lower the knees down and press back into Childs Pose.
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Wheel (Urdhva Dhanurasana)
- To begin: Lie on your back with your knees bent and heels close to your body.
- Bring your hands to the floor besides your ears with your finger tips just below your shoulders and pointing towards your feet.
- Engage your legs and slowly raise your hips off the floor, peeling your spine off the mat.
- Press your hands into the floor rot straighten your arms and raise your body up.
- Relax your neck, press firmly through both legs – ensuring your knees remain hip width apart.
- To come out, tuck the chin in and lower the top of your head gently to the mat, rolling your spine down slowly.
Supported Headstand (Salamba Sirsasana)
- Begin on your hands and knees in Table Top position, bring your forearms to the mat so that your fingers wrap around the elbow of the opposite arm, interlace your fingers tucking your bottom little finger inside the cup formed by your hands, creating a stable, sturdy platform.
- Tuck your toes under, lean forward and press strongly through the arms and shoulders as your shoulders press away from the ears and slide down the back.
- As your shoulders come away from the ears the head slightly lifts off of the ground to ensure the weight isn’t on the head.
- Engage the stomach muscles and straighten your legs to lift the hips high and walk the feet forward until your torso is nearly perpendicular to the floor
- Start by bending one knee in, squeezing it into your chest.
- Bring your hips forward and tilt just enough to lift the second foot off the ground.
- Try to balance with one knee into the chest, and the other foot off the ground. Eventually you’ll squeeze both knees in and lift with the legs squeezing together.
- It’s the strength of the upper body along with squeezing the legs, pointing the toes, and keeping the body tight and firm that creates the control, which in turn creates the balance.
- To come out, engage the core and slowly lower your toes down to the mat and rest in Childs Pose.
Supported Shoulder Stand (Salamba Sarvangasana)
- Lie down on your back with arms alongside your body, and bring knees into your chest nice and slowly, taking care not to swing the legs quickly up.
- With legs either bent or straight, lift your hips and reach your feet toward the floor behind your head.
- Interlace your fingers with arms straight on the ground, and squeeze your shoulder blades and elbows close together.
- Bend your elbows and support your middle back with your palms, fingers facing up. Either one at a time or together, lift your legs up vertical, gently pressing your knees and ankles together.
- To come out, use the core to extend the legs, slowly lowering down, rolling down the spine with the legs close to the torso.
- In Shoulder Stand ensure the neck is always looking ahead, never turn your head whilst in the pose.
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Knee to Ear Pose (Karnapidasana)
- Knee to ear pose is practiced following Shoulder Stand. With your legs straight up to the sky, keep your torso vertical and tip from the hips lowering the tips of your toes to the floor.
- Either keep your toes curled on the floor or straighten them so the tops of your toes are in contact with the ground. Lift your hip bones up high to the sky and straighten your legs rolling the inner thighs towards each other.
- Release your hands from your upper back and extend them in the opposite direction as your legs. Roll your shoulders under even more and place your palms flat on the ground or clasp your hands together. Press your arms firmly into the ground to help you lengthen your tail even further upwards to the sky.
- Let your knees fall on either side of your head so that your knees touch the ground in front of your shoulders.
- To come out, use the core to extend the legs, slowly lowering down, rolling the spine down with the legs close to the torso.
Fish Pose (Matsyasana)
- Begin by lying on your back. work the hands next to your body with the palms facing down.
- Press your elbows into the floor to lift your head up, moving the elbows closer together.
- Expand the chest and arch your back to lower the crown of your head towards the mat.
- Continue pressing the elbows into the mat, lifting your sternum up towards the ceiling.
- To come out, important to lift your head to look at your feet first, then roll the body down slowly.
Consult your own physician before undertaking these exercises. The directions and medical information in this article is provided as an information resource only, and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes. This information is not intended to be patient education, does not create any patient-physician relationship, and should not be used as a substitute for professional diagnosis and treatment.
Sophie Palmer has been practicing yoga for over 9 years and teaches a dynamic style of Hatha and Vinyasa yoga.
Like many, Sophie first turned to yoga for its physical benefits, but with time found the practice of yoga (both on and off the mat) was taking her on a deeper journey; allowing her to feel more open and connected to her heart, mind and surroundings.
Sophie has studied in Sydney, in Bali under Louisa Sear and Lucy Roberts and has completed intensive workshops with Clive Sheridan. She recently returned from India on retreat, where she studied Vedic Meditation and Ayurveda.
When she’s not practicing or teaching yoga, you can find her volunteering with A Sound Life charity, at the beach, exploring nature or in the kitchen experimenting with raw food creations.