Does the thought of doing a handstand freak you out? What happened to our childhood drive to hang off monkey bars, handstand or cartwheel? Did you know that these ‘silly childhood antics’ can actually help reduce back pain and the ageing effects of gravity on your body? On many, many fronts. Handstands don’t just create a set of very sexy shoulders and an alluring, striking posture.
I personally adore handstands, elbowstands and hanging work. But 11 years ago it all scared me, and I could do none of the above. My yoga retreat in Maui back in 2009 really highlighted where in my body I avoided ‘doing the work’ because I was scared I’d fail / look like a fool / fall on my head etc etc… BUT consistently showing up, and failing, I saw it as a challenge – something I couldn’t do, but wanted to do… but that which scared me… I’m one of those people where I almost HAVE to work on it when I can’t do something.
The things that scare us most are often what we need to do, commit to, or try… right?
That’s where the growth lies.
Each day I showed up, I kicked up to try. Repetitively missing the wall. Man, it was HARD WORK! But when I got there, boy did I love the thrill of it. Eventually, adding leg work, fancy hip openers and leg stretches, all while strengthening my arms, abs and deep core.
Turns out I was onto a good thing, as inversions quite physically pull apart our sedentary spine, increases ventilation capacity of the lungs, boosts cardiovascular system, nervous system and endocrine system. And, its’ Joy Factor is a 10/10!
Here are 5 benefits and reasons to incorporate inversions (handstands, elbowstands, even legs up the wall lying flat) to your day, every day – and why I use them in my classes.
1. Boosts Spine Health & Reduces Back Pain
Yep, you heard correct. Being in an inverted position can improve the space between your spinal discs and relieve pressure. It can decompress the spine and alleviate tension. Activities such as sitting, running and bending can put pressure on the spine. Inversions create space, increase mobility and unload the weight bearing down on the lower back as well as the neck. This can reduce that back ache and increase flexibility.
Your head alone weighs about 10kg, so doing a handstand in itself provides a gentle traction on the cervical vertebrae (neck) which stretches the joints and muscles at the base of the head. This can actually alleviate postural or cervicogenic headaches by gently drawing the area open and increasing blood flow to your head. This certainly helps me if I do get a headache, and I’ve witnessed it with my clients as well.
The brain also gets a big boost of blood flow, which increases focus and wakes you up significantly.
2. More Effective Lungs and Breathing Capacity
We get a bit scientific on this front. The physiology and design of our lungs means that when we are upright, gravity pulls our blood towards the bases of the lungs. But, the lower lung tissue is more compressed due to gravity, compared with the upper lungs. Which means that the air we inhale moves towards the top of the lungs more easily – but that’s not where the most blood lies to absorb the oxygen! (It’s down at the bottom, gravity does suck!)
Unless you take a deep breath and push the air to the bottom of your lungs, you’re not maximising your oxygen intake or fully ventilating or expanding the lower, compressed lung regions.
Two solutions. Firstly, you can to mobilise the lower lungs more through specific stretches and/or breath work. OR, you invert – this allows blood to move to the upper lung regions as well as decompressing and unloading the pressure on the lower lungs. This allows more efficient oxygen-to-blood ratios, improved oxygen absorption and healthier lung tissues!
Read: More oxygen in your blood flow, more ease of muscle contractions, more circulation, more perfused lung tissue to boost oxygen to your working muscles.
3. Improve Cardiovascular System and Recovery
According to David Coulter, Ph.D., who taught anatomy at the University of Minnesota for 18 years, when one inverts, tissue fluids of the lower extremities drain – far more effectively than when one is asleep. Areas of congestion clear.
Turning yourself upside down encourages venous return. Fluids will flow more efficiently into the veins and lymph channels of the lower extremities and the abdominal and pelvic organs, facilitating waste removal from your muscles and organs.
Inversions will help you recirculate and aid recovery from training, workouts and/or racing.
4. Boosts your Nervous & Endocrine System
Once you start trying, IT IS FUN! I witness clients go from hesitant and freaking out, to being persistent, laughing and smiling constantly. With just the beginner, preparation “kick up” work that I started with.
Not only does the nervous and endocrine system respond to inversions by releasing as well as recirculating several feel good hormones, the boost to your mood and energy also stems from the movement (or attempt at movement) itself. The good mood endorphins sky rocket!
5. Build a stronger core, more postural endurance & sexy shoulders!
The most obvious benefit of all is the strength that comes with working your body quite literally from top to tail.
Not only do your shoulders and arms get a solid isometric workout, your torso and shoulder muscles work hard to balance and orchestrate the alignment of your hips and legs through your core system.
When you get into the practice of the simple handstand, there are several drills and exercises to do for your core control, hip strength, leg stretches and spine health to really provide your entire system a solid workout. All while giving your body the anti-ageing effect of eliminating (or reversing) the gravitational pull of your entire body – skin and organs included!
When you reverse gravity’s pull on your body, you ultimately reverse the weight and compression throughout your entire system.
HOW LONG IS IDEAL? It is suggested to remain in the inverted posture for just 3 to 5 minutes. I stick with 3 minutes against a wall, and have mini breaks while doing leg drills work and pushing my shoulder stability and balance (I have to come down to take breaks). My Instagram post today shows the leg work and hip opening moves.
REMEMBER to learn good technique with supervision and a professional.
I am a trained AntiGravity Yoga Instructor, Polestar Pilates Rehab Certified Instructor and Physiotherapist, so when I teach any inversion work, we build up to it – we do plenty of specific core activation and I show you the proper set up. SAFETY FIRST – ensure you have no other health contraindications which may mean you need modifications or that full inversions aren’t appropriate for you.
If you’d like to join me at class, please reach out for my Pilates for Performance classes – a fusion of specific Polestar Pilates exercises, tailored Physio evidence-based work & Barre Attack repertoire designed to bring your body to the fullest of life.
Be Strong. Feel ALIVE.