Whether you’ve been to one yoga class or 1,000, you’ve likely tried your hand at an inversion. From the most restorative of options like Legs Up the Wall (Viparita Karani) to a full-blown Scorpion (Vrschikasana), there is an inversion suited for everybody. They can be challenging, it’s true, but in the words of Leo Buscaglia:
“The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, is nothing, and becomes nothing. He may avoid suffering and sorrow, but he simply cannot learn, feel, change, grow or love. Chained by his certitude, he is a slave; he has forfeited his freedom. Only the person who risks is truly free.”
Nothing ventured, nothing gained–am I right?
By definition as human bipeds we spend most of our day upright, head above our heart. Inversions flip that anatomical predisposition on its head, hands, forearms or shoulders, providing a rare opportunity for increased venous return from the lower body (anything below the heart) and improved lymph drainage. Lymph drainage may help reduce swelling, promote healing, alleviate headaches and decrease the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Whether you drink the inversion health KoolAid or not, done properly they are safe and fun, so why not give them a go?
For athletes, I would definitely suggest Legs Up the Wall for post training and competition recovery. For the rest of us, I’d recommend starting your inversion play with Supported Shoulderstand (Salamba Sarvangasana)–though both are good for everyone, athlete or not. To get into Supported Shoulderstand check out Yoga Journal’s excellent step-by-step. Once you’ve got that down, you may start to feel the desire to move your legs around, spreading them wide or dropping them in opposite directions into an inverted split. As long as you’re still supporting your back with your hands and keeping your neck straight (no peeking at your neighbors!), you’re safe to play around.
My favorite variation is Upward Lotus in Shoulderstand (Urdhva Padmasana). To get into it, you’ll want to start in Plow Pose (Halasana). From there, pretzel your legs, left over right, into Lotus (Padmasana). With your hands on your back, fingertips pointing toward your booty, stretch your pretzeled thighs up towards the ceiling. Hold this for 8-10 breaths then slowly come out the way you went in, using your hands to gently untangle yourself then slowly rolling down your mat, vertebrae by vertebrae.
Have fun with this asana but be careful. If you don’t already have full Lotus (Padmasana) in your practice DO NOT attempt this variation–it can be really tough on the knees.