Who Knew Monkeying Around Could be Healthy?
While some may think yoga is still just another craze, we know that it is here to stay. No matter what type of yoga, the number of practitioners grow daily all across the world. Within the yoga movement itself there are different practices that are gaining in popularity among different practitioners. One such practice is the group of inversion poses. For many of us our first thoughts when we hear the word “inversion” are the beautiful forearm and handstands that typify strength and dedication to your practice — and of course there is the facts that they look really cool and we want to be able to accomplish them as well. There are however, many more inversion poses, many of which can be modified and are attainable at any point in your practice. Beyond looking great, these poses make us feel great. There are many health benefits that can be received from practicing inversions correctly.
Before we go any further, let us define what an inversion pose is. Any pose where your heart is lower than your head can be classified as an inversion. This means that poses like downward facing dog and forward folds are inversions, just as shoulderstands and headstands are. Just as there are varying degrees of inversion poses, there are varying degrees at which we receive these benefits. A full inversion pose might provide greater benefits than legs up the wall — but that does not mean that these simple inversions are not worth practicing or paying attention to. After all, we should not skip ahead to trying handstands and risk injury. Practicing inversions gives us a vast array of health benefits as it helps to reverse the effects of gravity and stress on our bodies. As we live our lives upright, our blood as well as other fluid in our bodies tends to pull as a result of gravity. By inverting our bodies, even by simply placing our legs up a wall, we give our heart a break, prevent disease, relax and energize our body reduce anxiety and increase balance.
Starting with the most important or significant health benefit, inversions allow the heart to take a break. While we cannot actually stop our hearts to allow them to fully rest, we can give it a break by getting the blood in our feet to come back towards our heart. The heart has to work not only to get the oxygenated blood down to our feet and areas where it might be pulling but get it back to the lungs to be replenished. By inverting our bodies, we bring the blood back to the heart and lungs. The next major benefit from inversions is their ability to help us prevent diseases. Aside from blood we have a number of different fluids in our bodies. An important one is lymph fluid. This moves throughout our bodies collecting toxins and bacteria, bringing it back to our lymph nodes to expel them. By inverting the body, just like bringing the blood back to the heart, we help to bring the lymph fluid back towards our lymph nodes, helping to cleanse our system.
Inversions do not stop there. A third and fourth benefit of inversions is that they help to relax and energize our bodies. Inversions active our parasympathetic nervous system which originated in the brain stem and travels to the lower part of the spinal cord. This system’s job is to “rest and digest”. It calms the body, slows the heartbeat and controls the secretion of digestive enzymes. Gravity comes into play again here in the fourth benefit which energizes the body. During inversions the blood is not only drawn back to the heart and lungs but also to the brain. Bringing rich oxygen to our brain helps to revitalize our bodies and provide us with energy. Bringing oxygenated blood back to the brain also helps to product a calm feeling and mitigate anxiety our last major health benefit from inversions.
There are many reasons to want to practice inversions. From the numerous health benefits like resting our hearts and preventing disease to relaxing and invigorating our bodies and minds. Inversions also help us to achieve a sense of success and keep us humble on the journey to achieve it. They help us laugh and bring a smile to our face. While we encourage people to try inversions we also want to provide a note of caution. People with medical conditions like untreated high blood pressure, glaucoma, cardiovascular or kidney disease, slipped discs, detached retinas, neck injuries or epilepsy should avoid inversions. Women during that time of the month should also avoid inversions as they may cause harm. If you are unsure whether your body is able to try inversions we encourage you to consult a trained medical professional to discuss the risks and benefits of these poses.