Tips For Doing Inversion Yoga Poses

Headstand (salamba shirshasana) is one of the yoga poses that are considered inversion poses. Inversion poses involve any asanas that lift the feet above the head. Other inversion poses that are well known include shoulderstand (salamba sarvangasana) and half shoulderstand (viparita karani). But even lying on the floor with your legs on a chair is an inversion pose.

The concept behind inversion poses is expressed in yoga texts as viparita karani. Viparita karani is translated as meaning ‘opposite process’. This simply means facilitating a different perspective. From the purely physical point of view, this different perspective in inversion poses is literal – in terms of looking at the world from a different physical viewpoint – as well as involving the body being supported in a different way.

But as yoga is more than simply physical exercises, there are other processes that are assisted. A lot of yoga is designed to help us change mental habits as well as physical habits. Through increasing our ability to adapt to change, instead of being stuck in old habitual responses, we increase our capacity for growth and transformation. This applies in all areas of our lives.

There is a theoretical concept in yoga about why inversion postures help. Ayurveda considers that many of the body’s impurities are in the lower abdomen. When we raise our feet above the head, gravity is assisting us to move these impurities towards what the Ayurvedic system calls agni, or ‘fire’. Agni particularly relates to our ‘digestive fire’, and is thus located above our lower abdomen.

So, by being upside down, and by using the deep and slow breathing typical of yoga, we help ‘burn off’ the impurities that were previously stuck.

Improved circulation is a more readily apparent and less ‘esoteric’ benefit of inversion yoga poses.

Whilst inversion postures have many health benefits, the ability of an individual to receive those benefits depends as much on their capacity to comfortably hold these sometimes difficult postures. For example, headstand and shoulderstand should simply not be done if people are pregnant, have neck pain, high or low blood pressure, neck injuries, or are menstruating. And neither of these postures should be attempted without the appropriate preparatory postures. Otherwise the risk is there that an injury, or stiffness, particularly to the neck area, will result.

Likewise, if doing these postures is very uncomfortable and difficult, more benefit will be derived from doing either the modified versions, or simply working on other yoga poses that strengthen these areas.

There are several important prerequisites for getting the most benefit fro inversions. The first one, a strong neck, I’ve mentioned. The others are a strong back and abdominal muscles, and the capacity to breathe well whilst in the posture. The latter is going to get better with practice, both of yoga itself and the inversions. It is also somewhat tied into having a strong back. Our back and stomach muscles will provide the support to hold the legs straight, which inturn opens up the thoracic cavity, and increases our ability to breathe well whilst upside down!

Tips for Doing the Inverted Postures

For Half Shoulderstand:

* Lengthen the exhale
* Don’t lock the chin
* Keep your weight not on the head but on the wrists and elbows
* Don’t try to pull your torso (and legs) into the vertical like in full shoulderstand if you have difficulties with your neck. By doing so, you’re placing more pressure on your neck.
* Make sure you do the appropriate balancing postures afterwards. These include shalabhasana and bhujangasana

For Shoulderstand:

* Don’t worry so much about keeping your elbows and arms parallel. This will create more tension in your neck if you’re not proficient in this posture.
* Do the appropriate balancing postures. These are the same as for half shoulderstand.

For Headstand:

* Don’t ever make adjustments whilst in headstand. If you feel your alignment is not quite right, come down and do it again.
* Never do this posture first up, or without the prerequisite postures. It will lead to stiffness in the neck at best, and injury at worst. And the negative effects can build up over time. This posture is never done traditionally without preparation, and there is reason for this.
* Use a wall for support as a learning stage
* Support your head with all of your fingers, including the little fingers and thumbs
* Finding the right position for your head will make sure weight is distributed evenly, and ensure you don’t have to overly press down with your elbows to compensate
* Think of the support for the whole body as being distributed evenly across both elbows and the head
* Don’t hold your weight too much on the back of your body. It will place too much pressure on your neck.
* Don’t use props that allow the neck to be free.

Understanding the different types of Yoga

Yoga is becoming a more and more popular activity in the Western world today. The number of places holding Yoga classes is on the increase and there is a plethora of different types of Yoga. With a choice of Hatha Yoga, Ashtanga Yoga, Power Yoga, Iyengar Yoga, Bikram Yoga, Vinyasa Yoga and many more it can be easy to get confused

The article will help you to understand the difference between the most popular types of Yoga so you can choose which type is right for you.

Hatha Yoga – in Sanskrit (an ancient classical language of India) “Ha” means “sun” and “tha” means “moon”. This type of Yoga is relatively slow paced, gentle type of Yoga and is a good place to start if you are completely new to Yoga and don’t know any of the asanas (poses). Like all types of Yoga, Hatha Yoga aims to unite the mind, body and spirit.

Ashtanga Yoga – this is the type of Yoga that I practice on a regular basis and means “eight limbs” in Sanskrit. It’s a fast moving, intense style of Yoga practice and is based on a progressive set sequence of asanas, synchronized with the breath. Ashtanga Yoga can be quite physically demanding as you constantly move from one asana in the sequence to the next, so you’ll find that it will improve your stamina as well as your flexibility and strength..

Power Yoga – this is a western interpretation of Yoga and is based on Ashtanga Yoga. A Power Yoga class may not necessarily stick to the exact sequence of poses like Ashtanga Yoga does, but it does involve practicing a series of poses without stopping and starting.

Iyengar Yoga – This type of Yoga is based on teachings by B.K.S Igengar and concentrates on the correct alignment and form of the body. Unlike Ashtanga Yoga, there is an emphasis on holding each pose for a long period of time rather than moving constantly from one pose to the next. Iyengar Yoga uses props such as blocks and straps to help align the body into the different poses.

Vinyasa Yoga – Vinyasa means breath synchronized movement and is another fast paced type of Yoga, with an emphasis on breathing. A practice typically starts with sun salutations and moves on to more intense stretching. Throughout the practice each pose is balanced with a counter pose.

Bikram Yoga – otherwise known as “Hot Yoga”, is practiced in a room heated to 105 degrees, with a humidity of around 40%. Generally a sequence of 26 different poses is practiced during a Bikram Yoga class and the hot temperature helps to loosen muscles. Due to the high temperature most people sweat a lot during the class and this helps to cleanse the body of toxins.

If you’re just starting out or have never done any Yoga before, I recommend trying a few different types of yoga to find out what you like best.

Remember, there’s no rule that says you have to stick to one type of Yoga. I like Ashtanga Yoga best, but I also go to occasional Iyengar and Hatha Yoga classes for a bit of variety.

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The Power of Stretching

Your muscles ache from a good stretch. This is quite normal and is part of the process. Stretching has seemingly been with us and particular with athletes since the beginning of time.

A very key point to good stretching is to hold the stretch for at least seventeen seconds. This is a pearl of wisdom gleaned from a ballet teacher a few years back. She said that any stretch under 17 seconds was just not effective.

The 17 second rule is exceeded in the high intensity Bikram’s yoga where stretches are held for about 30 seconds. Don’t forget the high level of heat that is used in Bikram’s to extract that last little bit of stretch out of your muscles. An interesting twist that is not necessary to gain benefits from stretching. But, it can’t hurt, right?

So what kind of benefits can you expect from stretching? That’s an easy one. Have you ever seen the movie, Blood Sport? Did you know that Frank Dux could truly stretch his body to the extreme. The actor that played him was quite elastic as well.

Great elasticity is also something you might see in well trained Spetsnaz(Russian)agents. They often work out with Russian kettlebells too. They are for superior strength gains and the ability to withstand ballistic shocks.

Why are stretching and flexibility considered important to these people? Stretching gives one the ability to have explosive power available at one’s fingertips without the need to warm up. Of course most of us are not martial artists or agents. But, you’ll be happy to know there are plenty of other benefits.

Let me give you an example. After learning to sit in the full lotus position for long periods of time, my ankles became very flexible. One day I was walking along and my left foot fell into a pothole. This mishap pushed my ankle sideways to about 90 degrees from it’s normal position.

Amazingly, this didn’t even hurt, not one bit. If my ankle hadn’t been so flexible, I may have suffered a sprained ankle. At the very least, it would have hurt for days.

Key point: stretching helps us to avoid injuries. Not only that but if you do have a muscle, tendon or ligament injury it should heal faster, theoretically speaking.

Stretching actually grows the ligaments, tendons and muscles being stretched. They really grow longer over time.

Check with your physician before undertaking any type of exercise, including stretching.