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Embracing the Upside Down: Exploring the Benefits of Inverted Yoga Poses

For the month of November the theme for my hatha flow classes will be inversions. There are many yoga poses which are in the inverted category. Essentially this means having your heart above your head. There are many reasons why inversions can be beneficial for the body, mind and soul. Always ask for modifications or consider if these poses are for you. Yoga is for everyone but not every pose is. Personally there are some inversions I find come with ease and others are much more challenging, perhaps I'll never manage a handstand, but as I say in class; the world will keep turning and everyone who loves you will still love you. If you're keen to find out a bit more about inversions then read on.

Benefits for the Body:

1. **Improved Circulation:**

Inverted yoga poses facilitate better blood circulation, allowing oxygen and nutrients to reach the brain and other vital organs more effectively. This increased blood flow enhances overall cardiovascular health.

2. **Enhanced Flexibility:**

Inversions help stretch and lengthen the spine, improving flexibility and can relieve tension in the back, neck, and shoulders.

Benefits for the Mind:

1. **Stress Reduction:**

Inverted yoga poses promote relaxation by calming the nervous system and reducing stress hormones. The gentle pressure on the pituitary gland can also alleviate anxiety and promote emotional well-being.

2. **Enhanced Focus and Clarity:**

Improved blood flow to the brain enhances mental clarity, focus, and concentration. Practising inversions regularly can sharpen the mind and improve cognitive function.

Benefits for the Soul:

1. **Increased Mindfulness:**

Inverted poses require concentration and mindfulness, encouraging practitioners to be fully present in the moment. This heightened awareness can lead to a deeper connection with the self and the surrounding environment.

2. **Spiritual Connection:**

Some yoga traditions believe that inversions stimulate the Sahasrara (crown) chakra, which is associated with spiritual enlightenment and self-realisation .

Preparations for Inverted Yoga Poses:

1. **Warm-Up:**

Always begin with a gentle warm-up to prepare your body. Focus on stretching and strengthening your spine, shoulders, and hamstrings. The shoulders need to be stable to support your body weight and flexible enough to lift your arms overhead.

2. **Props:**

For gentle inversions like Legs Up the Wall pose, use props such as a folded blanket or bolster under your hips to support your lower back. This ensures comfort and stability during the pose. I love teaching using props for inversions as it makes things so much more comfortable.

3. **Breathing:**

Pay attention to your breath. Practise deep, mindful breathing to relax your body and mind. Coordinate your breath with your movements to enhance the flow of energy. Sometimes when we go upside down we can get confused or stressed and the breathing becomes short or shallow, focus on deep calming breaths. Your breath is tool to guide you in your practice.

4. **Proper Alignment:**

Pay close attention to your alignment. Avoid putting excessive pressure on your neck or lower back. Everyone's alignment is unique to their body. Always go with what feels right for you, your yoga practice should never be painful. Challenging, yes at times, but never painful.

Remember to always be mindful of your body and any injuries or contraindications that would suggest not to go upside down. For anyone managing shoulder, spine, back injuries, colds, flu, anything basically from the waist up or if you are pregnant then best stay on the ground or modify the pose into something much more restorative.

Here are my favourite inverted yoga poses that can be practised to experience the benefits of inversions: All of these can be modified or supported with props.

1. **Shoulder Stand (Sarvangasana):** In this pose, the body is balanced on the shoulders, supporting the back with the hands, while the legs extend upward. You can modify this is many ways; having a folded blanket under the shoulders, using the wall as support, elevating the sacrum onto a bolster or blocks so make more of a waterfall pose.

2. **Plough Pose (Halasana):** From a shoulder stand, the legs are lowered behind the head, with the toes touching the ground behind, resembling a plough. This can be modified so that when the toes come behind the head they rest on a bolster or blocks.

3. **Legs Up the Wall Pose (Viparita Karani):** A gentle inversion where the legs are extended vertically up the wall while lying on your back, forming an L-shape with the body. Again by supporting the lower back with a blanket or bolster this can be more comfortable.

4. **Bridge Pose (Setu Bandhasana):** While not a fully inverted pose, Bridge Pose involves lifting the hips towards the ceiling while lying on your back, creating a mild inversion that stretches the front body. Also lovely to practice this in a more yin way by supporting the sacrum with a block or bolster.

5. **Dolphin Pose (Ardha Pincha Mayurasana):** A preparatory pose for forearm stand, where the body is in a downward dog position, but the forearms are on the ground. Try the variations with the hands holding a block, fingers interlaced or palms up. All have their own benefits.

9. **Wide-Legged Forward Fold (Prasarita Padottanasana):** While standing, the legs are spread wide apart, and the upper body is folded forward, creating a gentle inversion that stretches the spine and hamstrings. You can soften the knees to be kind to your hamstrings and placing a block or bolster unter the head here allows a feeling of grounding.

Please note that some of these poses are more challenging and may require proper guidance and preparation to perform safely. It's essential to listen to your body and practice under the supervision of a qualified yoga instructor, especially if you are a beginner or new to inversions.

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