Do you remember when you were a child and you hung upside down on the monkey bars with your arms dangling in the air? Or perhaps it was when you were on the trapeze swing, gliding through the air, your hair hanging down and the breeze in your face? How much fun it was to see everything upside down..it made you feel like Alice in Wonderland at the Mad Hatters tea party. Nothing seemed the same.
There is something quite invigorating in changing your perspective and seeing things differently and the yogic practices of inverted asanas provide you with just that opportunity. We can all get “stuck” in our way of seeing things or doing things - being led by the ego and striving to fulfill our desires or feeling that we are “right”. Often it is necessary to break that pattern by getting out of our comfort zone and “tipping everything upside down!” I regularly open my eyes and look behind me whilst practising Parvatasana (mountain pose or downward dog as it is known in some traditions). It always surprises me, makes me smile, reminds me that there is more than one way of viewing things and I feel so refreshed when I come back to upright.
Of course that is the point of inverted asana, they do turn everything upside down not only on a physical level but also on an emotional and psychic level, throwing new light on old patterns of behaviours and being. Thus giving you the opportunity to reflect, to modify and change habitual practices.
From a purely physical point of view, the inverted asana, by reversing the action of gravity on the body, provides a rich blood supply to the brain, nourishing neurons and helping to flush out toxins. The accumulated blood and lymph in the lower limbs is drained and purified with fresh oxygen. The pituitary gland, a tiny organ near the top of the spine in the brain, is stimulated and this adjusts the whole endocrine system.
Whilst Parvatasana and Pranamasana (bowing pose) or simply placing the legs up the wall give some of the benefits of inverted asana the stronger inverted asanas like Sarvangasana (shoulder stand), Halasana (plough pose) and Sirshasana (head stand) should only be attempted under the guidance of an experienced yoga teacher as they put quite a bit of pressure on the neck. These practices are actually contraindicated for people with high blood pressure, back and neck problems. Women should not practice these asana whilst pregnant or during menstruation. If you are new to yoga or not sure if these asanas would be suitable for you please consult your teacher.
For more information about inverted asana check out the following: