How to Invert: 7 Ways to Go Upside Down and Benefits of Inversion
In every single yoga class that I teach, I reserve a segment of time for inversions. I also provide a range of options for the varying levels of practitioners, but as someone who knows the incredible benefits of inversion, I want to offer them to everyone.
Before we get into everything inverting does for you, let’s discuss what inversion therapy actually is. It’s simple, really: inversion therapy simply requires you to move your body into a position in which your head is lower than your heart. That’s it.
You don’t have to walk around the room in a handstand in order to receive the benefits of inverting, although that is certainly an option.
Some versions of inverting do move the feet above the head, but as we will discuss later in this article, that is not wholly necessary. What is most crucial is to lift the heart higher than the head. And here is what happens when you do...
Benefits of Inversion
Hanging out, upside down, sounds so simple, right? But what it does for you body is anything but - check out the wide ranging benefits of inversion!
- Pain relief (especially for your neck and back)
Whether you are suffering from back, neck, or sciatic nerve pain, inverting can - and will - help relieve your aches and pains. The main takeaway to consider when understanding how simple inversion can cure your bodily aches is to understand that inverting reverses the effects of gravity on the spine.
Quick science lesson: the spine is made from vertebrae, which are small plates that move and shift in order for your body to do what it needs to do. What happens when you stand and sit all day? Those vertebrae become compressed, and that compression leads to misalignment as well as painful tension and tightness.
When you invert your body, you allow the vertebrae to decompress, and voila, the tension and tightness that had you reaching for pain medication all day is suddenly gone. This is true for neck pain as well, since the spine includes the vertebrae of the neck.
What about sciatica? As someone who suffered from sciatica during pregnancy, I know how much it can affect the quality of your life. The sciatic nerve runs from the lower back down through the back of the leg, so if it is inflamed, you feel pain pretty much from the waist down. The most common cause of sciatica is a herniated disc, which is caused by the compression of the vertebrae. So, again, decompressing the spine is the fix for this common condition.
- Better breathing
Imagine what happens if you are upright all day, only allowing the blood to flow in one direction. It pools up and gathers in certain places, right? When you invert, you allow the blood to begin moving in the opposite direction, which allows for redistribution into the upper lungs as well as allows for more oxygen to flow into this area.
This opens up the lungs and allows for clearer breathing; it also strengthens the diaphragm, which leads to better overall health of the respiratory system because you can breathe more easily.
Another breathing benefit occurs because inverting helps improve sinus function, as highly-oxygenated blood will help to keep nasal passages moist as well as sinuses open. This is especially true if you choose to invert in a fully upside-down position, as the temporary rush of blood to the head further opens these areas that are otherwise closed.
- Helps your heart
Your heart will thank you when you start inverting. Why? It does not have to work as hard to pump blood out, thanks to the reverse flow of the blood as mentioned above.
This is not only because of the rush of blood moving upward to the heart, but it is also because this releases neurotransmitters to the brain that tell the heart to slow down, therefore decreasing heart rate. And, your blood becomes cleaner and more oxygenated due to the improvement in the lung function, mentioned above. Wins all around.
- Boosts digestion
It’s probably not something that you think about often, but gravity works on your intestines, too. When you invert, you take away the resistance that gravity makes the intestines fight against, and therefore help fecal matter move out more easily. Hello, detox.
- Beauty benefits all around
I definitely believe that your outer appearance is a reflection of what’s happening with your internal systems, so it’s no surprise that with all of the good stuff happening inside the body during inverting, your outer shell will reap some benefits, too.
One of the most obvious is the improvement in posture that regular inversion offers, which can be attributed to both the decompression of the spine but also the relief of tight muscles that the decompression causes. Poor posture is primarily a side effect of tight or weak muscles, which inverting works directly to correct.
Interestingly, improved posture causes a big shift in cosmetic appearance, as you look leaner, taller, and better when you are able to stand up straight. Some believe that this can actually make you taller, but it seems that the height change is a result of stretching out the spine instead.
So it won't make you taller but you gain other cosmetic benefits from the improved circulation and from the detoxification (think: glowing cheeks). If you turn fully upside down, then you also improve circulation in the scalp, which leads to healthier hair follicles and a more impressive mane. The reverse blood flow is also said to have anti-aging properties, so you can put away that wrinkle cream if you’re regularly inverting.
- Major mood improvement
Hello, stress relief. Amazingly, research has proven that tight muscles release tension within the first thirty seconds of inverting; less tight muscles means less stress for your body.
But let’s also talk about what happens with your hormones when you’re upside down. The glands responsible for releasing hormones get an influx of blood that they normally do not get, so they release feel-good hormones in response and reduce the production of stress hormones like cortisol.
This leads to an overall improvement in mood, and that decreases mood swings, depression, and temporary disorders like Pre-Menstrual Syndrome (PMS) and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Again, if you choose the full inversion upside down and get the blood rush to the head, then you feel more alert and are able to think more clearly. Who needs coffee when you can invert?!
How to Invert: 7 Ways to Get You Upside Down
Now that you know all the good that comes from inverting, you are probably wondering how exactly you get into the inverted position- especially if you aren’t a yoga practitioner, as I previously eluded to.
Luckily, there are plenty of ways for you to invert - and tools that can help. Here are all your best options for going upside down!
An inversion table is what it sounds like…sort of! It typically looks like a long, flat board that the user can lie on while their feet are strapped to the base of it, and then from that position you turn upside down.
This means there is no work required from you, as would be if you were in a hand stand, for example. This is great for those who want to - and can - go all the way upside down, although you don't absolutely have to. Curious to know more about inversion tables? Check out the best inversion table reviews!
The inversion chair is similar to the table, but it does not allow a user to go completely upside down. Instead, the user can usually invert to about 70 degrees but gets to skip out on the stress that inversion tables can inadvertently put on ankles, knees, and hips (due to being strapped in).
It is an awesome choice for those who are injury rehabilitation or have limited range of motion. Get a more in-depth look at inversion chairs!
If you’re looking to invert but also get a workout in, you may be more drawn to inversion boots. Before we go any further, you should know these boots don't have an anti gravity effect on their own - a rack and bar are required.
Here's how they work: The boots can be strapped on to the ankles and then strapped on to a bar that positions itself in a doorway rack. You then hang upside down from the bar and can do some impressive core workouts.
One great example of this system is the Teeter Hang-Ups Inversion and Chin-Up System. As described on the product’s website, it features quick-disconnect locking brackets that secure to any doorframe and allow the Inversion Rack to be installed very quickly.
The Gravity Boots wrap comfortably around each ankle and secure with adjustable, self-locking ratchet buckles. The handles are made with comfortable foam and are easy to reach, so you can easily mount or dismount from the system.
Additionally, it is designed with a double-bar system that allows for maximum mobility during your session, as it enables you to hang freely out and away from the frame.
Bonus: the rack also works as a chin up bar. The weight capacity on the system is 250 pounds, so make sure you do not weigh more than that for your own safety. Also, you need a pretty strong core to begin using this system; it is not designed for beginners.
The beauty of inverted yoga poses is that you don't really need any tools to get the benefits of inversion. And don’t worry, I’m not going to suggest that you do hand stands or head stands for yoga inversions - although those are options I offer to my students!
However, there are several beginner-friendly options, too, like these...
Beginning on all fours (hands and knees), simultaneously press into your hands to straighten the arms and tuck your toes underneath you.
Lift the hips up toward the ceiling while pressing your heels toward the ground, moving the body into what looks like a triangle with the point of the triangle being the hips.
This elevates the heart above the head, so you begin getting the benefits of inversion.
Dolphin stand is very similar to downward dog, with the key difference being in the position of the arms.
From your downward dog, while keeping the hips elevated, slowly lower down onto your forearms, and voila, you’re in dolphin pose.
What’s great about this beginner’s pose is that it offers a great opportunity to build upper body strength in the arms and shoulders, while providing the chance to be inverted.
Supported shoulder stand
This pose requires slightly more core strength than the aforementioned poses, but being able to assist yourself is greatly helpful.
You begin the pose by lying totally flat on your back and then slowly inhale the knees up toward the midsection.
Then, begin lifting the legs up straight into the air while shifting your body weight onto your upper back/shoulders.
You can help hold yourself up by placing your hands on your hips and holding the legs in place.
L stand on the wall
A strong L-stand is the prerequisite for a handstand; start by moving into a downward dog in which the heels are touching the base of a wall.
Slowly begin walking one food at a time up the wall and tucking the hands and shoulders underneath you, until your body has formed a prominent L position.
Legs up the wall
This is the final option I offer my yoga students when it’s time to invert, as it is the least intense inversion and requires no upper body strength.
You simply lie on your back but prop your legs flat up against the wall; it’s easiest to move into this position by scooting as close to the wall as possible in a sideways seated position and then swinging the legs up the wall, while lying back and relaxing into the benefits of this peaceful inversion.
If you want additional support as your pursue yoga inversions, there are some tools available to help. One such tool is a yoga trapeze, which is a set of sturdy fabric ribbons that can be clipped onto doorways, swingsets, or beams of any kind.
Once it is hanging, you can choose various inverted positions in the trapeze; the fabric provides a level of support that allows for better alignment and longer hang time.
Need to see it to believe it? We like this YOGABODY Naturals Trapeze: the professional quality system comes with a 600lb weight capacity as well as a 10-year warranty, so it’s extra durable and reliable.
It allows for extreme versatility, as you can not only perform several variations of inversions in it, but you can also do strengthening workouts with it. It is easy to set up, and there are several videos available to show you exactly how to use it and reap the benefits.
If the trapeze is a bit extreme for you, then another option you can try is a yoga headstand tool, which provides neck support and stability to give you more comfort and confidence in your headstands.
Check out this HealthMark option - not only can you use it easily for your headstands, but it also provides an awesome base for other weight-bearing yoga poses and exercises, like plank or push-ups. It is also foldable and lightweight, so it’s easily moveable and portable. Bonus: it comes with resistance bands for extra intensity during your workouts.
One final way to invert that you can easily try is by using an exercise stability ball. While you cannot fully invert on the stability ball, you definitely can relieve back pain, improve core stability, and feel stress relief from the various stretches it allows you to do. It's not totally going upside down but it will give you a taste of a range of inversion benefits!
So how do you do it? While lying flat on your back, you can put your feet on the ball and lift your hips into the air for a version of bridge that mimics inversion. You can even do a down dog on the ball, but that requires some extra core stability!
If you place the ball in the center of your spine and lay backwards over it, you move into a modified back bend that creates the same spinal decompression as inversions.
There is widespread information available to learn how to use the stability ball for these benefits and more, and it’s a relatively cheap piece of equipment that you can find in most retailers. Give it a try!
That should give you plenty of starting information to begin your own inversion practice; go ahead, try moving into a down dog after you read this article! What inversion method are you going to try?
Be sure to let us know your favorite way to get upside down and reap the benefits of inversion therapy!