Many yoga poses are named after animals and other things in the natural world that they…
Inverted yoga poses are an important part of a yoga sequence. From traditional yoga classes to power yoga classes at a local gym, the ability to go upside down seems to be the mark of a modern yogi.
Even though hand- and headstands might be the first things that come to your mind when you think of an inversion, not all inverted asanas are as challenging as these two.
An asana is considered an inverted pose when the position of your head is lower than that of your heart. So there are many options that fit the bill of an “inverted yoga pose” and can be added into your yoga practice.
Benefits of Inverted Yoga Poses
Inversions help strengthen the immune system by detoxifying the body and improving blood circulation. By turning upside down, you enable lymph to travel more easily into your respiratory system, a place where many toxins are able to enter the body.
Inversions are also said to energize the body by bringing more blood cells to the brain, resulting in a revitalization of both the body and the mind.
But even though inversions can cause you to feel a burst of energy and excitement, they also have the ability to help you relax. Some inversions help activate feelings of calm and balance, which ultimately leads to a calming of your nervous system.
Inversions also help you gain a new perspective on life. You will literally see the world in a different way, or upside down, which will help you work through challenges with perseverance and creativity.
A Note About Headstands
In Sanskrit, headstands are called Adho Mukha Vrksasana, which literally translates as “Downward Facing Tree”, i.e. an upside down tree.
Although headstands are one of the first asanas you’ll think of when it comes to inversions, many yoga teachers now say that they shouldn’t be taught to beginners because of how intricate they are and because the potential for injury is too great without the proper guidance or preparation.
There are, however, several other asanas that are considered to be inversions as well. The ones described below can provide you with the same benefits as a headstand, minus the danger of putting too much pressure on your neck and spine.
7 Beginner-Friendly Yoga Inversions
Adho Mukha Svanasana aka Downward Facing Dog
While most yoga classes already include the Downward Facing Dog, many yoga practitioners don’t realize that this asana is also considered an inversion.
This asana will help you strengthen your arms and core, expand your chest, and lengthen your spine and hamstrings.
In this pose, the most important cue to follow is that of pushing your chest towards your thighs. This will help you open your chest and shoulders while keeping your arms active.
In this pose, make sure to point your tailbone towards the sky. If your hamstrings feel tight, bend your knees and keep your heels off the ground. That will make holding this asana more comfortable for you.
Prasarita Padottanasana I aka Wide Legged Forward Fold
Forward Folds are another way for beginners to practice inverted yoga poses.
This first variation of Prasarita Padottanasana, in which your fingers are interlaced behind your back, will help you increase the flexibility in your hamstrings while developing core strength and stability.
When you practice this pose, maintain a microbend in your knees and make sure to activate your thigh muscles to lift up your kneecaps and prevent your knees from hyperextending.
As you fold forward, stretch your arms upwards. Let the knuckles of your interlaced fingers face the ceiling. This action will help you keep your chest expanded and spine lengthened.
Uttanasana aka Standing Forward Bend
The name of this yoga asana translates as “intense stretch”. While the most obvious target areas of this pose are your hamstrings, it will also help lengthen your spine and relax your neck.
If this inversion is too much of a stretch for your legs, try practicing it with your knees bent or your hands placed on blocks.
Avoid this pose if you have a herniated disc. Although many yoga teachers cue to roll up when releasing this pose, the traditional way is to keep your core engaged and spine lengthened as you return to a standing position. This will help strengthen your abdominal and back muscles.
Ardha Sarvangasana aka Half Shoulder Stand
While a full Shoulder Stand (Salamba Sarvangasana) is considered an advanced yoga pose, you can practice this half variation to develop the foundation that’s needed.
Support your back with your hands, one or two blocks, or a bolster.
Just like with a normal Shoulder Stand, make sure to not move your neck from side to side when you lift your legs up. There’s no need whatsoever to bring your spine and head into a 90-degree angle. Most of your weight will be placed on the back of your shoulders rather than on your vertebrae, as would be the case in a classical Salamba Sarvangasana.
Anyone with neck issues should either take extra care with this asana or avoid it altogether.
Setu Bandhasana aka Bridge Pose
This backbending asana is also an inversion. It will help strengthen your back muscles while at the same time relieving them. The same goes for your legs. Bridge Pose will help you develop stability and relieve your tired legs all at once. It may even help prevent varicose veins.
This pose will also help you expand your chest and strengthen your shoulder girdle. If you practice the variation in which your hands support your arched back, you’ll help strengthen your elbows and set a solid foundation for intermediate and advanced variations of Setu Bandhasana.
Ananda Balasana aka Happy Baby
Although your heart and head are technically both on the same level in this supine yoga pose, it’s still considered an inversion. In addition to the benefits that you get from being upside down, this pose is also a hip opener that’ll help increase your mobility.
Happy Baby is a yoga pose that reminds us of our great potential if we’re willing to approach life the way an infant does. Infants get into this pose naturally and comfortably. Although your body and flexibility has changed over the years, you can still retrain yourself to get into this position.
When you practice Ananda Balasana, keep the back of your neck as flat as possible and flex your feet so that the soles of your feet face the sky.
If you’re not able to hold your feet or your big toes in this pose, simply grab hold of your ankles or your shins, or use a yoga strap. Pull your knees towards your armpits and keep your chest open.
Viparita Karani aka Legs Up the Wall
Legs Up the Wall pose is a great alternative to Savasana as your final resting pose.
Viparita Karani is considered to be a passive, restorative yoga version of the Shoulder Stand, which will improve your sleep and relax your leg muscles, and can even help those suffering from PMS pain and cramps.
As you lay down for this pose, make sure to place some folded blankets under your hips as a cushion. In order to prevent your throat from being compressed, avoid placing a thick pillow under your head.
You may also loop a yoga strap around your legs to prevent them from falling open as you keep them vertical on a wall during this pose.
Stay in this pose for as long as you would stay in Savasana. To release the pose, slide both legs down to one side of the wall and then roll yourself onto the same side to rest in a fetal position. Stay here for a few breaths before sitting or standing up.
Straps are a good help for inverted yoga poses. Read my Guide To The Best Yoga Straps.