As Yoga Teachers, we know the incredible benefits of inversions including: improved immunity through lymphatic drainage, balancing emotions with increased blood flow to the brain (particularly the limbic area) which also triggers our endocrine system to release our happy hormones – serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine. Inversions also increase cardiovascular health by working against gravity and alternating the regular blood flow and blood pooling that happens in the legs and feet.
We also know there are many contra-indications for inversions that we need to be aware of, in particular when teaching large group classes where we are unable to know the health history of everyone in the class. Also the lack of wall space makes some poses in accessible.
Whenever I teach more traditional inversions, (shoulderstand, plow, handstand or legs up the wall) and I tend to keep this to my smaller classes, I always introduce with the following statement:
“Today I’d like to play around with some inversions as a way to change up our blood flow, work against gravity and increase both mood and immunity. There are some contraindications we need to be aware of such as high blood pressure, heart conditions, pregnancy and even recent dental work, eye surgery and head colds as it will put extra pressure in our heads. You are welcome to try and see how it feels, maybe only hold for about a minute or to sit this one out completely. Sometimes we just aren’t comfortable upside down so no worries. Let’s play!”
Here is a list of my favourite inversions to teach in my larger group classes when wall space isn’t available:
- Forward Fold – Right! We are already teaching this pose about 10x’s per class anyways. When I teach as an inversion, I have my students hold the pose longer, even a few minutes. Always giving options to keep hands on thighs and head either parallel to the floor or even slightly up for those that aren’t comfortable (or shouldn’t be) holding that pose for so long.
- Legs Up the Wall – Without the wall. Such a relaxing pose especially for evening classes right before savasana. I cue my class from knees to chest to just lift their legs straight up so that their legs feel suspended and weight less. Cueing to add folded towels or blocks under the sacrum will help relieve strain for the low back. I then invite them to hold as long as they are comfortable. (note: while the picture above is beautiful, most people will find better ease for the pose with the block at the lowest level)
- Shoulderstand Prep – For my more advanced students, I will ask them to work from bridge with shoulders tucked back and hands clasped. Next, lifting one leg and then the other testing both the weight moving into their upper body and the flexibility in their legs. Then very slowly I cue them to bring hands to low back and use their core muscles to lift their legs up into the air. In this way, I know they are maintaining all their safe alignment cues for their upper back and neck while focusing on strength over momentum to find and hold the pose.
Always interesting to change our perspective on things, seeing the world from a different angle. Have fun playing around upside down!