When you think of inversions, you probably imagine headstands and handstands. But an inversion is any pose in which the head is positioned below the heart. Inverting the body improves circulation, bringing freshly oxygenated blood to the head. Since the brain needs oxygen and glucose to function properly, this is a great way to kick start your “happy” chemical production.
If you have an advanced yoga practice, then go ahead and rock those headstands, handstands, and forearm stands. But for those who aren’t quite there yet, here are five yoga inversions you can practice to achieve the same benefits:
1. Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
Benefits: This pose stretches the hamstrings, calves, and heels, and helps to lengthen the spine. Insider Tip: Practice Downward Dog in the morning to warm up the body and stimulate blood flow.
Step by step:
Come onto your hands and knees.
Spread your fingers, and slide your knees back a few inches.
Ground down through your thumbs and forefingers, with your inner elbows facing forward.
Press into your toes, and lift your hips upward. Maintain the distance between your hands and feet. While this may be difficult at first, your body weight should be evenly distributed between all four limbs.
Relax your neck. Let your gaze land between your knees or up toward your belly button.
If your legs feel tight, alternate between bending and lengthening each knee a few times.
2. Forward Fold (Uttanasana)
Benefits: This inversion stretches the entire back of the body and massages the internal organs. Insider Tip: If you’re not flexible, use yoga blocks to bring the floor to you. As long as you’re able to get your head below your heart, you’ll receive the benefits of Forward Fold. If you’re not there yet, keep practicing to increase flexibility.
Step by step:
Stand in Tadasana (Mountain pose).
Begin to hinge forward at the hips.
Pause for a moment with your hands on your thighs. Ensure your back is straight by lengthening the torso.
Continue to fold forward while maintaining a long spine.
Be careful not to put too much stress on the knee joints. If you feel tension in the backs of your knees, microbend them.
Rest your hands on the floor or on a yoga block.
3. Supported Shoulderstand (Salamba Sarvangasana)
Benefits: This mood-elevating yoga pose alleviates mild depression. Insider Tip: Be careful to protect your neck when practicing Shoulderstand. Your body weight should rest on your shoulders—hence the name. Practice with a yoga blanket beneath your shoulders to prevent injury.
Step by step:
Fold a yoga blanket in half, and then fold the resulting rectangle in half again.
Lay down on your back with the blanket underneath your shoulders and your head on the floor. The upper edge of the blanket should line with the top of your shoulders.
Come into Plow pose.
Shimmy your shoulders underneath you. Place your palms on the back of your torso with your fingers facing up toward your sacrum.
When you feel supported, lift your legs up toward the ceiling, so they are perpendicular with the floor.
Try to keep your legs in a straight line over your hips, rather than leaning over your head.
4. Child’s Pose (Balasana)
Benefits: Balasana is a relaxing pose that offers the benefits of an inversion, including increased circulation and relaxed nervous system. Insider Tip: Need a little break? Rest in Child’s pose.
Step by step:
Kneel down on the ground.
Keep your knees together, or separate them as wide as your mat for a deeper hip stretch.
Touch your big toes together, and sit back onto your heels.
Hinge forward at the hips. Reach your arms out in front of you, as your torso folds over your thighs. Keep your hands active and your arms engaged.
Rest your forehead on the floor.
5. Wheel (Urdhva Dhanurasana)
Benefits: Wheel pose increases spinal strength and flexibility, Insider Tip: This backbend can be tough for beginners. If Wheel isn’t in your practice, try Bridge pose. In both variations, your head is below your heart.
Step by step:
Lay on your back with knees bent and feet resting flat on the floor, close to your buttocks.
Place your hands down on the floor by your ears, keeping your elbows parallel.
As you inhale, press into the palms and feet. Lift your hips up, and come onto the top of your head.
Pause for a moment. Ensure your elbows and feet are parallel.
On your next inhale, push up through your hands and feet, and lift your head off the ground.
If you have questions or need assistance getting into one of these poses, reach out to your local yoga studio. Nothing replaces the experience of learning from a teacher in person. Regardless of your experience level, inversions are hugely beneficial for your mind, body, and spirit—so be sure to add them to your practice.
Jennifer Minchin is a lover of yoga, words, and a good challenge. After 13 years of a dedicated yoga practice, she continued her journey with a 200-hour teacher training. She has always been drawn to more challenging classes, believing that you can find tremendous personal insight and courage when working at your edge. She believes that yoga is a path to transformation and a great healer. She hopes to share her love of yoga, and what she has learned in her studies, through her writing. Jennifer resides in Hoboken, New Jersey.