By Simon Joannou
There is something about doing inversions that changes how you feel. If you come to your yoga practice feeling scattered, overwhelmed or anxious, doing Salamba Sirsasana (headstand) and Salamba Sarvangasana (shoulder stand) can help bring you to a state of calm. The reason we as practitioners do inversions every day is because we know the effect. We know that at the end of practice, we’re going to feel better.
Inversions bring emotional stability. Geeta Iyengar says in Yoga: A Gem for Women, Sirsasana and its variations develop a balanced temperate and are a boon to those who suffer from fatigue. Geeta says if Sirsasana is the King of poses then Sarvangasana is the Queen – a great pose for the heart and lungs and internal organs in that area. This is also a very soothing asana for the nervous system, so it is quite important to practice when suffering from insomnia, stress, fatigue, or upset.
Practicing headstand and shoulder stand together creates balance in the internal systems of the body. It also encourages a mental and emotional equilibrium. When our systems are more in harmony we feel that physiological balance as a calm state in which it is easier to manage things. After inversions we do see things differently – what seemed like a big problem before is cast in a more realistic light, as if it has been restored to its proper place.
It’s important that inversions are learnt properly from experienced teachers as they are poses that need to be done with accurate technique. There is a lot of fear around doing inversions, which is warranted, but under the guidance of an experienced teacher inversions are safe and bring tremendous benefits to the body. The benefit of the Iyengar system is that there are so many alternative ways of doing inversions through the use of props that even someone who is physically incapacitated is able to experience the benefits of inverted poses.
There is something essentially very healing about being upside down. Holding ourselves steady, in one place – remaining still and focused in the one spot without stimulation – is a very good action for us today. We tend to live so much in the head that turning the head upside down for a while, putting it below the heart, is a really good exercise. This has the effect of subduing the head and subduing the ego. Reversing our normal physical hierarchy in this way is a very humbling and grounding thing to do.
The world we live in every day is becoming, by its very nature, more stimulating and more stressful. It is hard to have all these things play out on the inner systems of our body. We need something that counters the effects of the fast-paced world we live in, something that acts as a regular balancing machine. Inversions, from my experience, do this better than anything else.