I’ve been working on handstands since December; you know, on and off again. A couple frog jumps here and there, some experimenting on the beach where the sand will brace my fall. As a ballet dancer I wasn’t so used to being upside down, but as I progressed in contemporary dance vocabulary having my head below my heart became something I did on the reg. Recently I emerged from Kevin Dougall’s class feeling airy and just plain yoga, fully connected to my body and everything around me. Looking back on the class I remembered him talking about being upside down. So, I went on a hunt to find out what makes this upside down position so pleasant in the practice of yoga. There is a lot of information out there about inversions, but I sorted through it all to find the more reliable sources, I linked the sites to each paragraph in case you wish to learn more. So, here we go….. turn that frown upside down, why don’t cha?
OOOOOOOHHHHH me nerves!
Neuroepinephrine, dopamine and seratonin are neurotransmitters created when the oxygen and glucose in your blood flow to your head. Increased Neuroepinephrine will help you focus and is helpful in (ahem) the bedroom (if ya know what I mean…wink wink nudge nudge….) Dopamine controls motor skills and we could all use a little more seratonin which improves our emotional state.
Skip the Chiropractor! (Maybe not so literally…)
This one is real simple. Pressure is put on the vertebrae daily by walking and sitting right side up. By flipping your spine, you relieve this pressure and allow for some space to build back up between each vertebrae. There are even contraptions now that will hold you upside down called inversion therapy, this kind you can do sans all the straps and buckles.
A note on headstand ( please please please use your elbows and the strength of your shoulders and fists to support your body…incorrect use of the head in headstand can cause compression on your neck. Just wish everyone would start calling it elbow stand. (Get it? You stand on your elbows…. not your head.)
The blood flow reversal is a great way to soothe the muscles in your face that have been tugged at for decades by gravity. While smiling is another great way to defeat ol’ gravity, downward dog, shoulder pose, headstands and handstands can eventually help you fight the appearance of wrinkles by washing your face with oxygenated blood and giving those muscles a well deserved break. When Taylor MacGillivary mentioned facelifts during headstand in class I thought “Oh that’s cute!” But you know what? It’s real science. Taylor talks science.
That’s right. Garbage. The bag of chips I ate over the weekend while crying to my favourite puppy dog rescue video? Garbage. The glass of wine I downed after a massage therapy session because he told me to relax afterward? Garbage. The stress over taking that extra table during a busy night at the restaurant? GARBAGE! In Andrew’s class on Saturday he talked about the four elements relating to yoga and how each of us resembles the elements. The fire element is especially linked to the core. And so anything that is hanging out in your system particularly in the lower end of your body will be theoretically burned up by your core when it is fired at it’s maximum to keep you aligned upside down in the air. I particularly think of handstand. (Try it against the wall if you can’t hold it on your own.)
Save some for a rainy day…
Doing some upside down exercise (aka inversions in yoga speak) will increase circulation. Not only will it warm up those freezing fingers and toes in the winter, increased circulation will help stave off heart disease, stroke and high blood pressure. “But Kara, I’m young!” You say. Check it, it’s like an RRSP. Start saving now, because you never know how things will go. It’s always great to have a rainy day fund of circulation so when you’re 65 people won’t even ask you if you have your senior’s discount card, and then you can skip maniacally out of there when they don’t! (It’s a little like being carded at the NSLC..but opposite.)
Get in touch with your inner child, or if you’re like me, just stop in to say hi again!
The benefits of being upside down are seen by a child’s natural willingness to hang from a tree or their delight when they get picked up by their ankles. We could all take a cue from children and delight in this unique expression of being an active mobile being. According to theinspiredtreehouse.com, childrens’ natural tendency to play upside down helps them develop the vestibular system (the balance of their inner ear) as well as visual and tactile systems. Sometimes downward dog can even just feel like a lot, but as I peek between my legs I delight in the feeling of blood rushing to my head and give myself a little extra nudge of playfulness to the pose. While attempting some of the more daunting upside down poses, this attitude can go a long way as well. Allowing yourself the opportunity to fall and relaxing into the failure can help you recover quicker, physically and emotionally. When you take the pose too seriously you tense up unnecessary muscles causing involuntary shaking that wiggle you out of alignment. And when you fall seriously, just laugh it off! It feels great!
See the world from another perspective (literally and figuratively)
Colleen Saidman Yee says it best in her book “Yoga for Life”:”Inversions demand presence of mind. You can’t be obsessing about your insecurities or worrying about your to-do list…..I use them when I need an attitude adjustment”. So yes, we are seeing the world upside down but we are also seeing ourselves in a new light. Just yesterday when I held handstand for what felt like an eternity, when I flipped back over I opened my mouth to see if I would breathe fire. I felt like a fire breathing ass kicking dragon after accomplishing a free stand handstand.