A yoga teacher’s suggestion to invert has the power to illicit a range of emotions from students—bewilderment, fear, anxiety, aversion, rejection, excitement, butterflies, you fill in the blank.
Purposely turning ourselves upside down is contrary to our human physical locomotion-nature and yet the benefits of upending ourselves are many. Just as yoga gently encourages us to move away from any unconscious habitual patterns, the invitation to invert is simply another way by which to shake things up, step out of rut. Walking on our legs as opposed to our hands is perhaps the most glaring habit of humankind, and so inversions have the potential to be a valuable addition to the lives of all.
An inversion is most generally categorized as any asana in which the head is below the heart. And while headstand, handstand, forearm stand, and shoulder stand immediately come to mind, there are gentler variations that may be more accessible for students early on in their inversion relationship: Down dog, standing forward folds, legs up the wall, and happy baby are lovely ways in which to get things moving in new directions without jumping in the deep end.
Like all things in life, the suggestion to get upside down should not be universally prescribed. There are certain contraindications that should be observed so as not to cause or exacerbate previous injuries or illnesses: unmedicated high blood pressure, some heart conditions, neck injuries, recent stroke, detached retina, glaucoma, and epilepsy are common issues that should be addressed before inverting. Talk with your doctor and teacher if you are unsure about your status.
Additionally, the debate continues as to whether women on their “ladies holiday” should indeed take a vacation from inversions. I would suggest doing a little research for yourself, both in an academic as well as experiential sense—listen to your body and what feels appropriate as your move through your cycle. This might mean abstaining from or simply holding inversions for shorter periods of time—you are the ultimate judge.
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