The Skill and Health Benefits of Safe Inversions
Think of the body as a balloon filled with water. (That’s quite an accurate image actually.) To get the water to move around in the balloon you could shake it (with jogging) or you could turn the balloon upside down with yoga inversions. There are easy upside down postures accessible to beginners without their needing to do more advanced inversions like head balance. You could also squeeze the balloon with yoga postures like twists or forward bends or backbend. However, inversions also directly benefit the heart by increasing the volume of blood coursing through it.
In our school, students who become strong in standing postures may wish to learn inversions. We train and caution of contraindications (including high blood pressure; bulging disc in the neck, eye disease and more). We go over and over again the skill of safe entry, technique and movements to become skilled in these important poses. They include: l.) hand stand 2.) shoulderstand 3.) head balance 4.) elbow balance 5.) supported bridge 6.) plough and 7.) legs-up-the wall or viparita karani.
It is never too late to learn inverted yoga poses. According to Geeta lyengar, her father began teaching yoga to the Queen Mother of Belgium when she was 84
Turning Headache, PMS or Menopause on its Head
Studies have shown that women who practice yoga regularly are less likely to experience difficulty with the endocrine system. In particular, inverted poses listed are particularly noted for their soothing, calming effect on the mind and nervous system.
"Most people find that inversions on a regular basis help PMS or menopause," says Judith Lasater, a physical therapist and author of Relax and Renew (She’s here this October to share with us).
"My students often tell me that when they practice inversions, they don't get hot flashes. When they don't practice inversions, they do."
Inverted poses, Lasater says, have a dramatic effect, on what physiologists call hemodynamics--the flow of blood to every organ of the body They have a particularly potent, and measurable, effect on the glands of the endocrine system, including the pineal, pituitary, thyroid, parathyroid, adrenals, and hypothalamus. It is the endocrine system that controls the changes in hormone levels that happen during menstruation and menopause. And not just for women, the endocrine health of men as well.
Turning the body upside down also tricks the body into believing that blood pressure has risen, because the receptors that measure blood pressure are all in the neck and chest region, explains psycho biologist and yoga teacher Roger Cole, who has conducted extensive scientific studies on the physiological effects of yoga poses. The body takes immediate steps to lower blood pressure, including a relaxation of blood vessels and reduction in the hormones that cause retention of water and salt. These physiological adjustments may help ease menopausal symptoms. On a more subtle level, Lasater says, inversions affect the flow of prana, or life force energy, in a way that can help to counter hot flushes.
"Inversions draw the prana inward, toward the organs, toward the center of the body, away from the skin," she explains."
lnversions should be learned under the supervision of a good teacher to prevent injury and promote confidence. Headstand, Handstand, Elbow Stand, Downward dog, and Shoulderstand are all inversions that are extremely important in menopausal yoga practice
If supporting yourself upside down seems daunting, we teach how to practice with the support of a wall and/or a chair.
According to Cole, studies have indicated that Shoulderstand has a particularly quieting effect on brain activity. According to 95-year-old yoga teacher Indra Devi, Viparita Karani is the most important posture to address any problems with a woman's reproductive system.