Even a forward fold or downward dog counts as an inversion. But if you're ready to go upside down, try these four easy steps.
Ask Nike Master Trainer and yoga instructor Branden Collinsworth to define a yoga inversion, and you might be surprised when he answers in terms of mind rather than body. "It's a flip of perspective", he says. "As soon as we take away the habituated state of standing on our feet all day and we go upside down, it allows us to see the world in a new way. It also forces us to be present, and it can even bring some of us into a state of flow".
While the literal definition—any yoga pose where your head is below your heart—might have been what you were looking for, Branden's perspective offers something that's arguably more important: a "why" for incorporating inversions into your practice.
On top of the positives that Collinsworth mentions, inversions offer powerful physical and physiological benefits as well. One pilot study published by BMC Research Notes showed that after an eight-week yoga programme that gradually increased the amount of time participants spent inverted from seven minutes to 20, most participants had significantly increased heart rate variability in the evenings. This means they spent more time in a parasympathetic state, or the body's rest-and-digest mode, where your heart rate, blood pressure and stress decrease, your muscles relax and your energy stores increase. Translation? Inversions can have a restorative effect on the automatic nervous system.
"Even child's pose is a great opportunity to experience all of the amazing healing benefits of an inversion in a more gentle way".
Nike Master Trainer and Yoga Instructor
So what's the downside? Because people often associate inversions with having your legs in the air, the poses have developed a reputation for being intimidating or off-limits to beginners. But an inversion doesn't have to be a handstand or headstand. Have you ever done a forward fold or downward dog? Congrats—you've done an inversion. "Even child's pose is a great opportunity to experience all of the amazing healing benefits of an inversion in a more gentle way", says Jonah Kest, a Nike Master Trainer and yoga instructor. With that in mind, here are four easy approaches to help you get more comfortable with having your head below your heart.