Inversions are an integral component of not only a good yoga practice, but good health. As kids, we used to hang upside down from the jungle gym like monkeys, do somersaults, or swing as high as possible gripping the swing’s chain and leaning back to get the feel of flying. Little did we know it, but our bodies were getting some great internal benefits. Besides being fun and giving a sense of daring to play to edges, we were giving our endocrine system a chance to share its magic. Use your yoga practice to re-ignite the smiles you had just being a kid. And, for goodness sakes, do not let the ingrained thought “I’m too old to do this…” deter you from doing what can make you happy at any age.
First of all, there are medical contraindications for inversions. It depends on the style of inversion and the physical ailment. (When in doubt, leave it out…until you discuss it with your doctor.) The body’s glands, or endocrine system, produce approximately 50 hormones. These hormones ignite the release of chemicals that send messages to your body and mind how to feel and function. Some hormones get the energy revved up and others get you to chill out. Over time, a consistent yoga practice increases your sense of awareness of what your body needs to stay balanced within the endocrine system.
Your glands reside from the top in your brain down to your reproductive zone and many places in between. In fact, it is not just glands that host the necessary hormones we need to function. Your heart, besides pumping oxygenated blood throughout your body and dispensing the carbon monoxide load returned 24/7, it also makes a hormone (atriopeptin) to help regulate your blood pressure. The pituitary gland, considered the master of all glands, is only the size of a pea within the brain and generates hormones that trigger a ripple effect of the other gland’s in the body. Some consider the hypothalamus the chief gland; but, irregardless of that debate, each are profound contributors to your physical, emotional, and mental existence.
Now, let’s get to the power of yoga inversions. To be clear, an inversion is a pose that gets your head below the level of your heart. Inversions stimulate your endocrine system into action depending on the type of inversion you do. For example, a Forward Fold ignites the parasympathetic nervous system into releasing hormones like dopamine and serotonin. A sense of well-being and releasing tightness from stress residing in the cells and mind is an amazing result from simply letting yourself hang over and breathe. Child’s pose is another surrendering pose that lets the blood flow to the brain and tell the pituitary gland to start the sequential release of calming chemicals that your own body makes.
Other inversion moves integrate a use of strength and balance that ignite a different set of hormones and results. Headstand or handstand actually raise your blood pressure, increase the heart rate, strengthen balance, and ignite a release of hormones that increase your energy levels. One of the hormones released in headstand is glucagon, which is produced in the liver. It ignites the production of glucose to get the body’s energy moving faster. Can be a great pose to do at the front of the day to get the “juices” flowing.
Just know that due to the various hormones released during certain poses, it is wise to know what to practice in the morning and what to practice at night. The inversion of shoulder stand lowers your blood pressure, slows the heart beat down and ignites the release of serotonin and melatonin that help relax you and provide a good night’s sleep. Forward fold, either standing or sitting, is another calming pose. Remember to inhale and exhale slowly and deeply and you will enjoy the soft flow of peaceful energy. Legs up the wall is another great pose to do a little before bedtime.
From a cosmetic perspective, inversions use the power of gravity to help diminish the “fine” lines on the face that develop as we age. The utilization of gravity to help the blood flow to the face and brain helps what has “moved South” (your skin) to get moved in the opposite direction. The increase of oxygenated blood to the face is revitalizing for the cells. A healthy balance of working the endocrine system and the use of gravity to move the skin is a fantastic way to slow down the physical aging process. If anything, you just might find yourself smiling more for no reason.
Additionally, the inversions flip your organs upside down. To invert is to stir up sediments so that they can be more easily flushed out. Think about it. If you stir in a little sand in water, it will eventually settle to the bottom. The body is no different. Granules of what you consume are broken down in the digestive system. The organs that receive and use what is shared with them can retain tiny remnants over time. Not moving much keeps things where they settle. Throw in an inversion and things get stirred up and a chance to be moved out. Consider it a purging of what you don’t need or use like when you clean out your closet and drawers. It is showing good will to yourself.
Remember, you have an ample supply of power within you. We all grow a little bit older each day and there is no stopping the clock. But, with a conscious yoga practice, you will maintain and improve the health of the body and mind incrementally. Do not worry about setting time expectations of results. Instead, there will be a day when you suddenly become aware of a change or difference that you did not see before. Once that happens, know that you’ve just scratched the surface.