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How is holding a position whilst upside down good for me?

There are numerous postures which are held in an inverted position including Sarvangasana (shoulderstand), Shirshasana (headstand) and Adho Mukha Vrksasana (handstand); to name but a few. What they have in common is that when the body is held upside down, it reverses the roles of most of the muscles in the body. So, the muscles that are normally passive during exercise become active and vice versa. In addition, when you are holding an inverted position, the diaphragm has to work against gravity when breathing. This adds another dimension to the lungs movement when breathing and therefore increases the lungs mobility (which, in turn, increases the amount of oxygenated blood available).

Let’s look at these three postures:

Sarvangasana (shoulderstand)

This is known as the ‘queen of all postures’ for its effect on reversing the roles of the muscles in the body, as discussed above. If I only had 10 minutes to do yoga for whatever reason, I would do this yoga asana. The foundation of the position is the shoulder line (not the neck) and it is essential that the elbows are in a little so that the shoulders come together and the scapulae find elevation.

Shirshasana (headstand)

This yoga asana stabilises the muscles in the body and releases tension from the torso, leaving muscles in an expanded state. This is why it is the last yoga asana in the Prana Vashya sequence of postures. When coming into this position, placing the weight towards the crown of the head makes for a more neutral spine and a better balanced position; as does fixing your vision point.

Adho Mukha Vrksasana (handstand)

This yoga asana shares the benefits of the two postures mentioned above. It is essential to maintain the correct grounding of the hands with all the load of the body balancing equally upon them and not collapsing into the wrists. Stillness of the mind and calmness of breath are equally important. This yoga asana, as with all inverted positions, should be perfected under the guidance of a qualified teacher before adopting the same in self-practice.

Finally, all inverted positions should be avoided by those practitioners with spinal issues, heart problems, hypertension and by women who are in their cycle. Any practitioner with anxiety issues may also wish to avoid inverted positions if they cause discomfort.

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