Yoga Inversions: Benefit of Handstand vs. Other Yoga Inversions

by Melissa West on

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Yoga Inversions

Have you ever wondered if you need to be doing those difficult and acrobatic inversions in yoga?

Are all inversions created equal?

Stay tuned to find out.


Recently my friend Christina from Chriska Yoga put out a video called: How to do Handstand. It went through how to do handstand and all the handstand poses you need to know to progress into handstand.

I was so impressed with the tutorial, particularly with the way she spent the time to release the shoulder girdle in preparation for shoulderstand that I shared her video with my students on Facebook. One of my students, Kelley, had an interesting and important question in response to the preparation for headstand:

What are the benefits of doing handstands, versus something more gentle like legs up the wall, besides the obvious arm and core strength it takes to hold it?

This is a great question. Are all inversions created equal?

So first of all, let´s look at the purpose of inversions. In yoga, whether that be hatha yoga, restorative yoga or yin yoga, are meant to reverse the effects of gravity thus revitalizing your entire body. Yoga inversions replenish your brain and stimulate your organs and hormonal glandular system. How do they do this? They reverse the regular flow of blood and lymph.

Inversions nourish your central nervous system and so are beneficial if you experience stress or anxiety. Inversions will help improve your digestion and elimination, so if you suffer from constipation or irritable bowel syndrome, inversions can be helpful.

Some inversions strengthen your core and upper body as Kelley mentioned, such as headstand, shoulderstand, plow, and handstand.

However, that being said, there are some major precautions to take into consideration when looking at inversions such as handstand, shoulderstand, plow, and headstand.

Number one. As women, we menstruate. I see images all over instagram of young women practicing full on strengthening inversions everyday. It is important that we do not practice inversions during menstruation. This turns the natural downward flow of menses upside down. Our menstrual cycle is also a time when our energy should be focused inwards. During menstruation our yoga practice should be a time for rest and gentle nourishment. This is a time to practice restorative yoga and yin yoga.

If you have a neck injury, you need to avoid shoulder stand, plough pose and headstand. There is a lot of pressure and weight being placed on your cervical spine in these inversions that can further exacerbate those injuries.

In that way, gentle inversions do offer many of the benefits of more challenging inversions. Take legs up the wall pose for example. This pose is going to give you all those benefits of inversions without the contradictions. Your pelvis is not inverted, so I believe it is one of those inversions you can practice even when you are menstruating. If you have a back injury you can practice this pose with your knees bent or with your legs on a chair.

Supported Shoulderstand is another gentle inversion that offers wonderful yoga inversion options. You can use a couple of bolsters and keep your pelvis level when you are menstruating or you can place a block under your pelvis and elevate your legs.

Other poses that you might not consider as inversions but will also offer you the benefits of yoga inversion include: downward facing dog, wide legged stading forward fold, and standing forward fold. The benefit of these poses is that the neck is free. The standing forward folds are more calming and reduce stress and anxiety.

In downward facing dog you have the added benefit of strengthening your arms, legs and torso like you do in some of the more demanding inversions such as handstand, headstand and shoulderstand. Additionally, downward facing dog offers a more energizing yoga inversion option that is accessible to most intermediate and beginner yogis.

Here is the bottom line, we all do too much while taking too little time for physical, mental, emotional, energetic and spiritual nourishment. We are often holding down stressful jobs, maintaining relationships, caring for our families, trying to exercise and maintain a fulfilling life. We are constantly trying to meet the needs of our families, our bosses, our friends and our own high levels of expectations. We hear our bodies begging us to slow down but we do not know how to stop. We do not know how to stop running, pushing ourselves, and overreaching. So we keep going, even when it comes to inversions.

In my opinion, we need to stop the insanity and favor the more nourishing and restorative yoga inversions like legs up the wall, supported shoulderstand, supported bridge, standing wide-legged forward fold and standing forward fold.

It takes a lot of courage to stop running, stop pushing, and stop overspending our energy reserves, even when it comes to yoga inversions. When we practice nourishing, restorative, gentle yoga inversions we can begin to regroup and rebuild. We can learn how to expend our life force energy economically and efficiently. We can create balance in our life by nourishing our energy. When we take the time to slow down, even with inversions we find we have a spaciousness and gain some energy back to enjoy our life more.
What do you think? What is your favourite inversion and why? Let me know in the comments.

Restoring your energy and learning yoga inversions is not something you can do in just one yoga short video. Just like brushing your teeth, it is something you need to do everyday. The best way I have learned to restore my energy is to incorporate gentle, nourishing inversions into my everyday life. I am going to share with you a good, better and best way to do that now.

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