by Marion Thornley 

<img4686|left> Some of the more well-known postures in yoga are the inversions, that is, when we turn ourselves upside down. These include the headstand, the shoulderstand, the arm balance, and others. In fact, the headstand is sometimes known as the King of Asanas (postures), and the shoulderstand as the Queen of Asanas. Why is so much importance attached to these positions?

There are many benefits to turning ourselves upside down. Nearly all of the systems of the body are nourished, namely the endocrine, the circulatory/cardiovascular, lymphatic and nervous systems.

Without getting too technical, while we are upside down the heart is exercised in a similar way to when we perform aerobic exercise. When we are upright blood tends to pool in the lower legs, and when we are upside down, the effects of gravity help the blood return to the heart, helping the ventricles to fill with blood and stretching the cardiac muscles. On the other hand, the helping hand of gravity also gives the heart a bit of a break. The brain receives its supply of oxygen-rich blood with less strain on the part of the heart, and this flow promotes clarity, memory and other brain functions.

There are also pyschological benefits to turning ourselves upside down. While we are in the pose we view the world from a radically different angle, we literally turn our world upside down. This different view sometimes translates into greater mental flexibility. We also need a certain amount of faith – that we will come to no harm and not fall over. To be safe in the pose we need to concentrate, thus training our minds to come into a focused state.

There are many more documented benefits to these poses when they are practiced regularly and safely. Of course, as with all yoga poses it is not advisable to try and force ourselves into a new position without first warming up the body and preparing ourselves physically and mentally. And these rather demanding postures are not recommended for everyone.

Fortunately, there are easier and safer alternatives that still bestow the benefits of being upside down.

A restful version is called Legs Up the Wall Pose , and it is exactly as it says on the tin. To try this position sit sideways against a wall with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Carefully swing yourself around so that your bottom is against the wall. Slowly lower your upper body to the floor, with a folded blanket or cushion under the back if you wish. When you are comfortable, extend your legs up the wall, resting them against the wall. The arms can stay by your sides or extend them above your head. This should be a calming, restful position. Stay here for several minutes, building up the time you stay in the pose gradually over time.

When you come out of the pose, stay in a sitting position for a few minutes before coming upright.

[(Marian teaches yoga in Ceret and is particularly interested in the use of yoga as a tool for health and healing. For more information contact Marian on [> ]


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