Remember when you were a kid and loved being upside down?
You would hook your legs over a high bar of some nature and just hang. Or when you were small enough, you’d have one of your relatives hold you upside down by your feet. It was fun. You enjoyed inversion.
Much like many things from childhood, as you got older you put “childhood” things away.
But then you started going to yoga and inversions were back on the menu. Headstand, handstand, shoulder stand, standing forward bend and even the “simple” legs up the wall. Yoga has been around for thousands of years and inversions have always been a part of it, so there must be something to this whole “being upside down” thing.
So what are the benefits of inversions?
Your body expends a lot of effort in returning the blood from your legs back up to your heart. There are specialized valves in the veins in the legs. These keep the blood from dropping back down due to gravity. Then it’s the pumping of the heart that pushes the blood through those valves and back up to the heart. Inversions reverse the effects of gravity and venous return becomes easier. Conversely, inversions make pumping blood to your brain easier by the same but reverse mechanism.
Anything that allows your heart to work less is a good thing. It’s a muscle, after all, and all muscles have to deal with fatigue.
Being upside down also allows lymph to flow easier to aid in the elimination of waste material and bacteria. According to Live Science, lymph flows in one direction, upward toward the neck. Since being upside down reverses gravity’s pull, inversions help clear the lymph, giving a boost to your immune system.
There’s even more benefits than those, but just those two should be enough to entice you to flip heels over head.
The hamstring series is the “simple” legs up the wall inversion with motion.
Take a look at theses two pictures:
The one on the left is the yoga “legs up the wall” inversion. A good yoga instructor will be able to give multiple options for the class participants for every position. They have to be able to keep everyone involved, even if they have physical limitations that might keep them from performing more advanced asanas. In this case, when the rest of the class is practicing headstand or shoulder stand, a person with a compromised neck can get the benefits of an inversion without undue risk.
The picture on the right is the neutral position for the GYROTONIC® hamstring series. Looks rather identical, doesn’t it?
The difference is that once you’re in this position, it’s only the beginning. From here you’ll move your legs in every possible range of motion. You’ll do scissoring motions, circles, rotations, bicycling, swimming motions, and crazy combinations of all of the above. I’ve never tried counting how many exercises are in the hamstring series, but it’s a whole lot!
The Hamstring Series has even more benefits.
While the heart pumping the blood through the valves I mentioned earlier is the primary way blood is returned from the legs to the heart, muscular contraction is also a factor in venous return. So not only are you getting the benefits of the inversion’s assisting of venous return, but you’re getting the assist of muscular contraction. Double score!
And all the motions are done with resistance. You get stretched, strengthened, you improve coordination, you learn to integrate breathing with your motions. Oh, and best of all, you get to have fun!
Head over to the GYROTONIC® website and find a studio in your area. (hint: If you’re in San Francisco, just visit me!) Get your body into an inversion, then move it.
GYROTONIC® is a registered trademark of Gyrotonic Sales Corp and is used with their permission.