Gravity and Yoga: The Benefits of Being Upside Down
Gravity is an incredibly powerful force. It literally keeps everyone together on this earth. Without gravity, we could be anywhere! Gravity is a constant in our lives…and it always pulls in one direction, down, no matter what.
This nonstop pull of gravity can have some undesired effects in our bodies over the years. Over time, it causes our bodies to literally shrink. Our spinal columns compress, our organs grow sluggish, our skin droops. Even within a single day, gravity causes us to shrink in height, with the average person losing up to an inch from morning to night.
Although we cannot fight gravity, in yoga we can use its pull to our advantage. When we turn the body upside down, we reverse the pull of gravity and create long-lasting benefits for our entire system! Some claim that for every minute spent in headstand, the aging process is suspended. Inversions (even half inversions like downward facing dog or standing forward bend) allow a fresh flow of blood to the brain, they enable you to see the world from a different perspective, and, when you can get your legs above your heart, they provide a much-welcomed rest for the circulatory system. I’ve had many students tell me they measure at least an inch taller after beginning a consistent yoga practice.
On an emotional level, inversions build confidence by helping us to overcome limiting beliefs or fears, and allow us to see the world from a different perspective. The feeling of being upside-down, as an adult, is truly freeing!
Many people resist inversions from fear or a belief that they are not strong enough. To gain benefit from inversions, they must be practiced safely and mindfully, and approached in stages. They should only be learned under the guidance of a knowledgeable teacher. Some physical issues make some inversions ill-advised, for example, someone with a neck injury should not practice traditional headstand or shoulderstand. But there are usually some stages where most people can work safely, or props that can help. When doing any inversion, the breath should be smooth and deep, and the mind calm. It requires patience and persistence to develop a strong inversion practice, but it is well worth the effort.
For those who cannot do traditional yoga inversions, there are still other options for getting upside-down. Partners, props, inversion tables, etc. My favorite is the use of the Aerial Sling. In Aerial Yoga, we use a soft fabric sling hanging from the ceiling to support the body weight in inversions. This allows someone to practice an inversion without their head or hands ever touching the floor! In this position, the pull of gravity creates space in the joints of the spine, instead of compression. The longer you hang upside down while relaxing and breathing deeply, the longer the spine literally becomes. In Aerial Yoga, we practice many traditional yoga postures, like Pigeon Pose, upside down. Some beginners say it is actually easier than traditional yoga postures on the ground, because they don’t have to fight gravity in order to stretch out. Remember, gravity is a powerful force that can work with us or against us.
Regardless of whether you lie on your back and put your legs up a wall, or practice handstand and headstand, or practice aerial yoga, or lie on an inversion table, for many people there is tremendous physical, mental, emotional, and energetic benefit to be gained by reversing the flow of gravity on a regular basis.
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