Anatomical, physiological, energy anatomy, psychological and spiritual benefits of inversions.
Inversions allow us to flip the effects of gravity! Whilst gravity may be great for strengthening bones via weight bearing exercise, it is also quite ageing and affects our immune function by decreasing lymphatic flow and circulation of blood to the lower extremities. By turning the body upside down and using the downward pull of gravity, we can change the flow in the body and more easily drain the fluids and waste from the lower half (i.e. the lymphatic system drains more efficiently).
We live in society where everyone is busy all of the time and during these periods of work we are either sitting or standing and consequently making it increasingly more difficult for venous blood to be completely removed from the legs and lower abdomen and return to the heart for purification. Any posture is considered to be an inversion when the heart is above the head. This position moves oxygen rich blood to the upper body and head for nourishment and removal of toxins. During an inversion, the heart gets a rest from pumping so hard and venous blood returns to the heart much faster as it is now working with gravity. (Venous blood works on a system that has much less pressure than in the arteries, so it depends on muscle contractions and one-way valves for movement of blood back to the heart and against gravity). By inverting you will also be moving fresh blood to the brain (improving memory and concentration, and stimulating the hypothalamus and pineal glands which balance and optimise the hormonal centres), sensory organs and the face. Although it hasn’t been proven, there might be an anti-ageing component to inversions.
The lymphatic system - responsible for our immunity - doesn’t have a pumping mechanism like the cardiovascular system, so it also depends on muscle contractions for removal of waste. When you invert you are increasing the flushing of the lymph nodes in the lower half of the body to expel waste, excess proteins and pathogens. Physiologically, an increase in lymphatic drainage and cardiovascular function provided by inversions assists the body to more effectively transport nutrients and oxygen and remove waste, which contributes to an improved sense of wellbeing and boosted energy.
When we consider the effect of inversions on the respiratory system, gravity once again plays a starring role. As the internal organs are drawn towards the Earth in the inverted position, they place pressure on the lower lungs allowing the upper lungs to absorb oxygen more freely for transportation to the bloodstream.
The digestive system also gets an opportunity to improve its functioning in inversions. Inversions encourage peristalsis of the ascending colon which typically works against gravity, so it may be helpful to invert if you are constipated. In addition, pressure is reduced on the internal organs which allows them to be toned.
Poses like Viparita Karani and Salamba Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand) are cooling for the body and calming for the nervous system, so are beneficial for insomnia, anxiety and stress.
Psychologically, an inversion can take quite a bit of preparation to work up to, but here lies a lesson in perseverance for the student. If they can dedicate themselves to the practice, suppress the ego, listen to their body and learn to enjoy the process then this provides a space to strengthen the psyche and level of awareness. Once a student can safely perform an inversion, they earn confidence in themselves, their alignment and mental and physical strength. A different perspective is provided to them spiritually.
Inversions provide a boost to the movement of prana in the direction of Upana Vayu. Salamba Sirsasana and Adho Mukha Vrksasana stimulate the crown chakra (Sahasrara, linked to the pineal gland), which is connected to spirituality and enlightenment. Shoulder stand is said to stimulate the third eye chakra (Ajna, linked to the pituitary gland), responsible for intuition and imagination. Many other inversions also stimulate the heart chakra (Anahata, linked to the thymus), responsible for love.
By Alyssa McLeod
Ekhart Yoga. 2013. All About Yoga Inversions. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.ekhartyoga.com/blog/all-about-yoga-inversions. [Accessed 23 August 2016].
Endocrine Web. 2015. An Overview of the Hypothalamus. [ONLINE] Available at:http://www.endocrineweb.com/endocrinology/overview-hypothalamus. [Accessed 25 August 2016].