Inversions, as we often refer to them in the world of yoga, are simply any pose in which your body is upside down and your feet are overhead (think headstand, forearm balance, shoulderstand, etc.). These types of poses relieve stress, depression and lethargy by calming the brain and stimulating the pituitary and pineal glands. Inversions are also awesome strengthening exercises for the arms, abdomen, legs and spine. But don't just take my word for it — Jennifer Cavalieri, certified yoga instructor and founder of Tula Yoga studio in Aberdeen, New Jersey, is here to back me up (or I should say "hold me up" if we’re keeping with the headstand theme)!
"While we walk around all day, sit at desks and drive cars, gravity starts to take its toll on our bodies," she said. "Inversions are postures (asanas) where our head is below our heart. Being inverted reverses the action of gravity by moving the fluids in our body from our feet back to our head. This provides the brain with more oxygen and blood thus increasing mental functioning, improving concentration and memory, and giving us balance and clarity."
If that's not reason enough to invert yourself, Cavalieri said that headstands and other inversions also help to cleanse and massage the internal organs, boost the metabolism and improve digestion, and direct blood flow to the face and skin providing a "natural facelift." Sign me up!
But before you go flipping yourself upside down, there are, of course, a few precautions you should know about as well. Read on for tips and tricks for safely practicing headstands!
*Note: Headstand is an intermediate/advanced pose and should not be performed without prior yoga experience or unless you have the supervision of an experienced teacher.
Starting out on all fours in a tabletop position, place your forearms to the floor so they are parallel and no wider than shoulder width apart. Check your placement by bringing your opposite hand to the opposite elbow (your elbows should be close enough that you can wrap the opposite hand fully around the opposite elbow).
Next, bring your hands together and interlace your fingers, keeping your palms open and making somewhat of a pillow for your head to rest. Set the crown of your head on the floor, snuggling the back of your head against your open, clasped hands.
"When getting ready to practice headstand, most beginners tend to put too much weight onto the neck and head, which can be a potentially harmful situation," said Cavalieri. "It is suggested to use the wall as support until you build your core strength and shoulder strength and flexibilty."
Pressing your head into your mat, lift your knees up and off the floor, curl your toes under and begin to straighten your legs and lift your hips up forming an inverted "V" or a funky downward dog position. Carefully begin to walk your feet closer to your elbows, keeping your heels elevated up toward the sky. Keep your front torso as long as possibly by firming your shoulder blades against your back and lifting them toward your tailbone. This will help to keep your weight evenly distributed so that the shoulders do not collapse onto your neck and head.
From here, test out your balance by engaging your core and slowly raising one leg up at a time toward the sky. Once you feel confident and in control of this position, you can either choose to raise the opposite leg up to meet the already extended one, or starting with both feet down on the floor, lift them at the same time by bending your knees and hopping lightly off the floor. This way will take a bit more control and you want to make sure that you are slowly lifting and straightening your legs so that your momentum doesn't end up knocking you off-balance.
Once both legs are up off the ground, keep pressing your shoulder blades together, using the strength of your shoulders, legs and core to maintain your position (avoid putting the weight on your head and neck). Remember to continue lifting your tailbone upward toward your heels, squeezing your bottom in toward your stomach, trying to make your body as straight as possible. Hold here, breathing slowly and deeply in and out through your nostrils for four to six breaths.
Beginners should aim to hold this pose for around 10 seconds. As you become better with your balance, gradually add five to 10 seconds onto your hold until you can go for one straight minute.
To come down, bring your knees slowly back in toward your chest and then your feet back to the ground. Sit back and relax into child's pose for a few deep breaths.
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