The Power of Going Upside Down
By Howard VanEs
A major feature of the Iyengar system of yoga is a category of yoga postures known as “inversions” and as the name suggests they involve going upside down one way or another. These postures include handstand, headstand, forearm balance, shoulderstand, plow, legs up the wall, and to some extent downward facing dog pose.
The benefits for doing these postures are tremendous. They improve circulation, strength, energy, flexibility, coordination, digestion, take weight off joints, enhance focus and concentration, and flush the lymphatic system.
Another huge benefit of practicing inverted poses has to do with countering the effect of gravity on the organs and posture over time. As we age, our organs tend to be pulled downward, out of their ideal position. Adding to this is the development of poor posture which pushes the organs even further out of the proper position for optimal functioning. Going upside down reverses this, it helps to put the organs back in their right position within your body and at the same time improves the alignment of your entire muscle-skeletal system.
With so may benefits it’s no wonder that BKS Iyengar referred to shoulderstand as the “Queen of Asanas” and Headstand as the “King of Asanas.“
Postures, like legs up the wall and downward facing dog pose are relatively easy to do on your own, but the other inversions are best learned from a qualified yoga teacher. Most people haven’t been upside down since they were kids. So, while some inverted postures are a little scary at first, once you get used to doing them, they can be a lot of fun and something to look forward to.
Note: Most inverted postures should be avoided by those who have high blood pressure, glaucoma, in their third trimester of pregnancy or sooner, during menstruation, or have any muscle-skeletal injuries that may be aggravated by a particular posture or cause further injury.
Instructions for legs up the wall pose: Sit on the floor with your right hip next to a wall or door. Pivot onto your back and hips, extending your legs up the wall or door. You should be at an approximate right angle to the wall or door. Your butt should be close to the wall but, if you feel this posture in the back of your knees or your hamstrings are screaming, you might want to back away from the wall a bit or bend your knees slightly. Be sure to check the position of your neck. If your chin is not pointing straight up or down towards your torso slightly you will want to put a folded blanket or towel under you head for support. You don’t want to have any compression in your neck. Stay in the posture for ten to twenty minutes, breathing long slow deep breaths.
To come out of the posture: Exhale and bring your knees to your chest and roll your right side. Stay here for several breaths and then slowly press up to seated position.
Benefits: This relatively easy posture is good for balancing your energy. If you are feeling anxious legs up the wall will calm you down, if you are low on energy it will bring it up. This pose is also good for improving circulation, stretching the back of the legs, and evening out your emotions. You can use it at the end of your asana practice, at the start, or anytime you want to return your body and mind to balance.