I’m fully onboard with being kind to ourselves, listening to our bodies and making time for self care … absolutely !
However …. our mind and body are pretty smart and they will take advantage of this mindset if we let them. We can be tricked into thinking we need to take it easy and stay within our comfort zone and know our boundaries when it’s actually the last thing that will bring us happiness and fulfilment.
When we push through comfort zones thats how we expand them and when we take on the challenge thats where we find the stimulation, excitement, purpose and adventure.
This year as i enter the last year of my “40’s” i decided to turn my world upside down, literally and figuratively and i’ve been rewarded with a new perspective on life and all the benefits that come with it.
Literally speaking i’m referring to Yoga inversions when i say “turn your world upside down”. Technically, inversions are a category of Yoga asanas (pose or positions) where you place your head below your heart and hips, therefore inverting your body. Some examples are the headstand (Sirsasana) handstand (Adho Mukha Vrksasana), shoulder stands (Sarvangasana) and also the downward dog (Adho Mukha Shvanasana) and a supported legs up the wall (Viparita Karani).
The health benefits of inversions can not be underestimated.
The obvious advantage is the strengthening of our physical body. Handstands, headstands and shoulder stands for example strengthen our whole body but in particular our upper body & core muscles. We open our shoulders, our chest and elongate our spine allowing blood to flow deeply into our connective tissues.
Inversions are a super efficient method of encouraging “venous return” which is when de-oxygenated blood is returned to the heart, re-oxygenated and delivered to all working muscles, providing them with an increase in oxygen and nutrients. At the same time we are also helping the flow of oxygenated blood to the brain, sensory organs and the face. According to Pat Layton, physiology teacher for the Iyengar Yoga Institute of San Francisco’s Advanced Studies Program, “People have to do aerobics because they don’t invert. You have to run really hard to get the heart pumping enough to circulate blood down to the feet and up the back. Not that you shouldn’t do aerobics, but inversions are a healthier way to get the benefits (to the circulatory system), particularly as you get older.”
All this is pretty cool already but there is more ….
Inversions help flush our lymphatic system and i can feel this actually happening, have you ever had a deep tissue massage and feel sort of heavy afterwards as your body works to flush out the toxins it deposited into your bloodstream?. The lymphatic system helps protect us from infection and disease. It is part of the body’s immune system. It acts as a one-way drainage system, removing toxins from cells and tissues into lymph node for filtration then into the bloodstream.
In a 1992 Yoga International article on Headstands and the circulatory system, David Coulter Ph.D. who taught anatomy at the University of Minnesota for 18 years wrote: “If you can remain in an inverted posture for just 3 to 5 minutes, the blood will not only drain quickly to the heart, but tissue fluids will flow more efficiently into the veins and lymph channels of the lower extremities and of the abdominal and pelvic organs, facilitating a healthier exchange of nutrients and wastes between cells and capillaries.”
Our endocrine system which is made up of all the hormones benefits too. Responsible for our metabolism, growth & development, emotions and mood, fertility and sexual function, sleep and blood pressure. Our endocrine system plays a vital role in overall well-being and happiness.
When the pineal and pituitary glands (which sit behind the eyes in the centre of the skull) are upended 180 degrees and gravity is reversed it may just be that the extra stimulation and extended slow release of their hormones promotes better health and impeding ageing, this is what the ancients tell us. Women who practice regular yoga inversions report improved PMS & an easier transition through menopause. I can testify that when my endorphins are stimulated i feel dramatic stress & anxiety release and a new sense of balance.
We can figuratively turn our world upside through pushing through comfort zones and challenging ourselves, it might even by deciding to practice and achieve inversions because they can be very daunting and the fear of falling is within us all at the beginning. Eleanor Roosevelt famously said “Do one thing every day that scares you”. It’s through challenging ourselves that we grow, gain confidence, endurance and resilience.