Going Upside Down: Yoga Inversions for All Levels

In modern yoga, inversions have become quite popular among both seasoned and newbie yogis and yoginis. But what really is an inversion? According to Yogapedia, yoga inversion refers to poses where the heart is positioned at a higher level than the head.

Yoga inversions are believed to be beneficial to both your physical and mental well-being. It improves blood flow to the brain, making the brain function better and faster. It energizes the mind and the body and is said to be more effective in keeping one awake and alert than caffeine. It is also believed to help relieve stress, strengthen the spine, enhance immunity, and promotes proper posture.

Inversions improve blood flow to the brain, making the brain function better and faster.

There are several yoga inversion poses for yoga students of all levels. We will explore some of the different inversion poses ideal for beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels.

Simple Inversions for Beginners

While there are some yoga beginners who are adventurous enough to dare to explore intermediate to advanced inversion poses such as shoulder-stand, headstand, and even handstand, several others still find such poses intimidating. But doing an inversion doesn’t necessarily mean you have to go in a total upside-down position.

Inversions energize the mind and the body — they are more effective in keeping one awake and alert than caffeine.

The good news is, there are yoga poses which are technically inversions, even if you do not really notice it. Let’s take a look at some of these poses which I’m sure you have been doing several times in a regular hatha or vinyasa practice.

Legs-Up-The-Wall Pose (Viparita Karani)

Legs-up-the-wall is a passive yoga pose which is believed to provide many physical benefits, including stress relief and relaxation. Though this pose does not really look like any ordinary inversion, it brings the same benefits as any other inversions: it promotes blood circulation toward the upper body and head. Legs-up-the-wall is a relaxing and wonderful way to balance the body after you have been standing or sitting all day.

Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)

Image from Gaia

But who doesn’t know downward facing dog, right? And yes, it can be considered as an inversion! Though the main focus of this pose is to stretch the hamstrings, shoulders, and spine, the head hangs lower than the heart making it almost an upside-down position. Beginners — though not all — find downward dog a doable pose, albeit imperfect, especially for those who have tight hamstrings.

Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana)

Even if you are a beginner, you are most likely familiar with a sun salutation especially if you practice vinyasa. Standing forward bends (or uttanasana) are performed in a sun salutation and in almost every flow. While a standing forward bend pose is primarily intended to open any tension found in the hips, hamstrings, calves, neck, and shoulders, the head is positioned lower than the heart when you do this pose. This means that you are technically doing an “inversion” while bending forward all the way down the floor.

Image from Yoga Journal

Standing forward bends are not always easy, especially for those individuals who have tight hips and hamstrings. But you do not necessarily need to touch your fingers on the ground nor keep your legs straight to get the benefits of an inversion in a forward fold. In short, your uttanasana need not be perfect.

Intermediate Inversions for Experienced Yoga Students

As you go deeper into your practice, you will begin to explore more complicated poses. In this level, the real “upside-down” poses are typically introduced. You will begin to gain strength that allows your body to lift yourself up into a full inversion, while your mind learns to focus and let go of fear. The following poses are the usual inversions that you will learn as your experience in yoga grows.

Shoulder Stand (Salamba Sarvangasana)

Supported shoulder-stand can be a beginner-friendly inversion but it’s not often introduced in beginner’s classes. It is called a “shoulder stand” because the body weight rests on the top outer edges of the shoulders, while the rest of the body lifts straight up in one line. While on this pose, the head rests on the floor with chin pointed towards the chest without closing the gap on the throat. It is important to remember to keep the head steady and the neck centered while on this pose, and not move them side to side.

Image from DoYouYoga.com

Shoulder stand is referred to as the “Queen of Asanas”, and is a powerful pose to practice for safely learning inversions. This can be practiced near the wall to begin with, supported by the hands on the back. As you begin to build strength, you may move towards the unsupported version (with arms and hands on the floor) and/or to plow pose (halasana).

Headstand (Salamba Sirsasana)

There are different varieties of headstands, some of which are considered as advanced poses. Yoga students who are moving from beginner level towards experienced level commonly learn the supported headstand variation.

The supported headstand is known as the “King of Asanas”. It requires a lot of core strength and mental focus to be able to lift effectively into the pose. With traditional yoga practice, beginners, no matter how physically strong they are, are not usually allowed to go into the pose right away — even if they are physically capable.

More Advanced Inversions

Moving along from intermediate to advanced level of inversions is not very easy. It takes years for some to master even a supported headstand — while there are others who really cannot lift or hold the pose comfortably well. However, there are some who have mastered enough physical and mental strength to move to other more complicated inversions.

Forearm Stand or Feathered Peacock Pose (Pincha Mayurasana)

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A forearm balance is a challenging inversion to learn after you have mastered headstand. It requires more core strength and a lot of focus especially because the head is floating rather than resting on the floor. Practicing this near the wall is a good way to start while you are still learning to balance.

Chin Stand (Ganda Bherundasana)

Image from YogaAndFlow.com

Chin stand combines inversion and a little backbend. This is another challenging pose which must not be tried by those who are not yet confident with their balance and strength. Preparatory poses must be done before going into the pose to ensure that the muscles and spine are properly warmed up.

Handstand (Adho Mukha Vrksasana)

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While it is indeed an advanced and challenging pose, there are some yoga beginners (i.e. those who just started practicing yoga for less than a month) who consider themselves handstand junkies. Handstand is a cool inversion pose practiced even by those who are not doing yoga at all. This being said, it still requires a lot of strength, balance, and focus to be able to steadily hold a handstand — and these three aspects can only be gradually and properly built through consistent and regular practice.

When’s The Best Time To Do Inversions?

In most yoga classes, inversions are often done towards the end of the practice. This is often regarded as one of the peak poses, especially when doing the intermediate and advanced inversions. However, if you cannot do a full yoga class, you may still choose to go upside down at least once a day to balance the body from its usual position.

Make sure to have proper training with a trusted yoga teacher before you start practicing any intermediate and/or advance inversion poses.

It is ideal to do inversions at the beginning of your day, as they can help perk you up. It is important to note however, that certain warm-up stretches and preparatory poses are needed especially if you choose to do a more complicated inversion poses. You may do one to three sets for a 30 to 45 seconds, or you may choose to do it once and stay longer up to a minute or two, or even five.

If you want to do a quick reverse at the end of your day, it is still alright to do some inversions in the evening as long as you do it at least an hour or two before you sleep — with the exception of legs-up-the-wall pose, which is a passive and relaxing kind of inversion.

Most importantly, make sure to have proper training with a trusted yoga teacher before you start practicing any intermediate and/or advance inversion poses.

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