Flipping Upside Down: The Benefits and Risks of Inversions
3 Apr 2019
Making inversions beneficial, accessible, safe and fun.
Inversions can be a fun, invigorating, truly beneficial part of most anyone’s yoga practice, whatever the person’s “level.” With the right approach, they can be quite accessible and safe.
I adore inversions and always have. I find them fun and exhilarating. They can help us connect to our inner strength, work with our doubts and fears, develop our skills, and realize our potential. I wrote about this a bit last year. Yogis who already have an inversion practice look forward to the opportunity to continue to practice, experience and refine. Inversions are like going to a favorite restaurant. We like to repeat the experience!
I created the upcoming Pop-Up Inversions Workshop to celebrate inversions. We will have time to talk about the nuts-and-bolts, so new and seasoned practitioners can learn and refine. We will have meaningful time committed to simply practicing and “feeling our way.” And I will be there to physically assist —and even catch you! New folks will get lots of fun exercises and variations to do.
This is an example of how a teacher can assist in inversions. From the mang’Oh Teacher Training
- Fun! You get to be a kid again!
- Energizing and mood-lifting
- Strengthen many muscle groups (my arms get hella strong when I amp up my handstands)
- Strengthen back and core
- Improve balance and space-relations
- Build healthy bone density in arms and spine, key areas of need
- Stimulate brain function, help the aging brain
- Can help leg swelling and varicose veins
- Encourages “can-do” energy: empowering and exhilarating
Risks & Contraindications
Of course, we can injure ourselves doing anything in life. I once pulled a muscle getting the milk out of the fridge! That said, kicking up into a handstand against the wall carries some risk of falling or jerking your spine. But if you approach the pose properly and have a teacher to spot, or even catch you, you absolutely can develop the strength, coordination and trust in yourself to create an exhilarating, beneficial inversions practice for yourself.
Risk Level by Asana
In my classes and workshops, I focus on the safest inversions and variations. Safest are Handstands and Forearm-stands, with variations. Intermediate risk is Supported Headstand. High risk are Plow, Shoulder-stand and Tripod Headstand. In group classes, I only offer handstands and forearm-stands. In workshops, the others come into play.
Certain injuries and conditions must be considered. Many people can modify inversions to support their needs, but some people should not do inversions at all.
Inversions are not recommended if you are on blood thinners, have a heart condition, eye issues like detached retinas or glaucoma. (If these conditions apply to you, you can lie down and put your legs up the wall. You might like a block or a bolster under your hips, too!)
High or low blood pressure. Talk to your doctor. If you don’t feel dizzy during a sun salutation, inversions are probably fine.
Sinus problems may be aggravated while upside-down.
Menstruation: In the yoga tradition, it is believed that inverting while menstruating contradicts nature’s downward moving energy during this time, and may lead to complications such as endometriosis and fibroids. Western medicine does not agree with this.
Menstruation may cause increased bruising, worsening varicose veins and embarrassing bleeding while inverting in yoga class. Contact me for more information.
It is your personal, physical, spiritual choice
Pregnancy: In the yoga tradition, women are advised not to invert while pregnant.
If you are trying to get pregnant or are participating in IVF, inverting may not be for you
If you are already pregnant, and have a yoga practice, inverting may be fine, depending on the state of your journey. Talk to your teachers every step of the way!
Spine, Shoulder and Wrist problems:
Bone loss, stenosis, arthritis, shoulder or wrist injuries: you may not want to practice inversions in a group class, but in a small group or workshop, most likely we can practice variations using the wall, props, and assistance from an experienced instructor.
Yoga Benefits Far Outweigh Risks
Overall, the benefits of yoga far outweigh the risks. In a typical yoga class, we incorporate a variety of asanas that stretch, strengthen and organize the body, and provide benefits to physical and mental health. Many poses can help you strengthen areas of injury and alleviate pain. There are a selection of poses that carry some risk. But if we approach all of our yoga poses with respect and wisdom, we can create a safe, sustainable, and truly beneficial practice for our bodies and minds.
Chintamani teaches classic and therapeutic yoga, and is a longtime Teacher Trainer and mentor in the mang’Oh 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training Program. She also leads the annual mang’Oh Meditation Series.