The health benefits of Inversions
In Depth Asanas / January 4, 2014

The health benefits of Inversions


Inversions: why get upside down?

Marcus’ Inversions Workshop takes place this Saturday the 11th of January (1:30pm – 3:30pm) at The Power Yoga Company!

Here’s why we think you should attend…

An inversion is any asana in which the head is below the heart. Down-dog, standing forward-folds, legs up the wall, and happy-baby all count. However, it’s when you move towards headstand, handstand, forearm stand, and shoulder stand that the real magic happens…

Being upside-down has a multitude of benefits for the cardiovascular, lymphatic, nervous, and endocrine systems. Reversing blood flow is good for circulation. Gravity will help the lymphatic system remove toxins. Inversions can also be used to stimulate or restore for a quick shift in energy and even increase mental function, concentration and memory. On an emotional level inversions can balance your mood and on a mental level they can help to overcome fear or anxiety. According to The Pradipika, the benefits of inversions stretch even further – to the point of even prolonging life itself. Just 3 hours a day can “conquer old age and death.” Better than any Oil of Olay.

Live forever?

The Natha siddhas and other Tantric schools, forebears of the hatha yoga tradition, believed that amrita, the nectar of immortality, was held within the cranial vault, at the seventh chakra, sahasrara. The valued nectar, meting out our days, dropped down through the center of the body where it was consumed by the fire of the torso. Turn yourself upside down, the reasoning went, and amrita would be retained, thus prolonging life and preserving one’s prana.

In Headstand, the pineal and pituitary glands (which sit behind the eyes in the center of the skull) are upended 180 degrees, directly over the fontanelle. These glands are responsible for growth and sex hormones. Some people believe that the effect of reversing these glands in the field of gravity could be the dripping amrita of the ancient yogis—that perhaps they sensed the slow release of hormones from the cranial vault and used inversions to stem or stimulate the release, promoting health and impeding the process of aging.

The science bit

A more recent discovery is that being in headstand may also affect the movements of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), the juice of the central nervous system which flows from the brain to the spinal cord. When properly done, the top of the skull receives intense pressure which may promote elasticity in the cranial bones, thus stimulating the production of CSF in the ventricles of the brain.

For us grounded earthlings, standing, sitting, and walking with head above the heart, legs and pelvis below, gravity takes its toll. As the years rack up, so do the damages. The heart bears the strain of incessantly pumping blood through its vast circulatory network. To ancient yogis gravity was “the silent enemy” so they endeavoured to use its own power to fight its effects by getting upside down every day.

The human body is sensitive to the fluctuations of gravity because it’s made up of more than two-thirds water. From the skin inwards, the body is dense with cells; floating in a bath of intercellular fluid. A complex network of vessels weaves in and around every cell, steadily moving fluids through valves, pumps, and porous membranes, dedicated to transporting, nourishing, washing, and cleansing. When you invert, tissue fluids of the lower extremities drain, and areas of congestion clear. If you can stay in an inverted posture for just 3 minutes, the blood will not only drain quickly to the heart, but tissue fluids will flow more efficiently into the veins and lymph channels of the lower extremities and of the abdominal and pelvic organs, facilitating a healthier exchange of nutrients and wastes between cells and capillaries.

Give your heart a break

The heart works doggedly all day, every day to ensure that freshly oxygenated blood makes its way up to the brain and its sensory organs. Many people do aerobic exercise to get the heart pumping, but you have to run pretty hard to circulate blood down to the feet and back up. Inversions can be a healthier way to get the same benefits to the circulatory system, particularly as you get older. When inverting, the pressure differential across the body is reversed, and blood floods the carotid arteries in the neck. It is believed that baroreceptors, mechanisms that calibrate blood flow to the brain, sense the increase in blood, and slow the flow, thus reducing blood pressure and heart rate.

Get a new perspective on life 

Both metaphorically and literally, seeing the world from a different point of view can help clear out the old and bring in the new. Blockages, difficulties and quandries are often better faced and overcome from a new perspective. Getting beyond the physical, conquering fear and building confidence is one of the most obvious benefits of inverted postures. They also keep us humble on the way up, as we always have to come down.

But personally, for more than any of the above purported benefits of getting upside down, I just love how much fun it is. Unfiltered enjoyment. The moment when you realize you are actually up in a handstand and not just about to fall out of one, is the closest I can get to a feeling of flying. Pure freedom. When you get inverted, it really feels like you are turning the world upside-down. Defying gravity and the rules that say you shouldn’t really be doing this… we evolved to stand on our feet, right? The laws of physics keep us there… but when you get upside down, you get the sense of breaking free of these restrictions and then when you find some control in the posture, it can really feel like you are now in charge, setting the limits; an agent not just a participant. Yoga encourages us to move away from any unconscious habitual patterns, and inverting is simply another (arguably the best) way by which to shake things up, step out of the rut.

You cannot be serious! 

Inversions bring a sense of freedom that can reintroduce us to our inner child and remind us that while yoga is a contemplative endeavor in many ways, the asana practice is also a time to be playful and lighten-up! As we grow older, wiser and more socialized, we in turn become conditioned, confined and constrained by all the mores, laws and outside influences which we learn to conform to. But inverted postures allow us to find that place of a child playing freely before he’s learnt the rules of the game. The best bit is making it up. Or down.

Marcus’ road to yoga was not a conventional one. Touring the world as an international DJ, wholeheartedly committing to the hedonistic life… and loving every minute of it, it wasn’t until an over enthusiastic stage-diving mishap put a stop to all professional jumping around for far too long, that he finally took a therapist friend’s advice in trying yoga to get fixed. Trying every style of class he could get, he finally landed on dynamic vinyasa and more specifically, The Ashtanga-inspired Rocket system, which satisfied his undying urge to fly; becoming a teacher with the It’s Yoga affiliated Yoga People in Goa. 

Marcus’ classes embrace the joyful rebel spirit of The Rocket, experimenting with advanced balancing postures along with the traditional grounding poses,. He also strongly believes that the heat which fires the practice should be created by you, not the room, so the focus is always on the powerful connection of the breath, movement and the bandhas. The DJing days still show their influence too, as a personal playlist is integral to the energy of his classes. Every practice is prana-fuelled, music-powered and limit-pushing. Find out more at RocketClubYoga and on Facebook.