Changing My Perspective

Sirsasana (Headstand)

Sirsasana (Headstand)

I used to let fear govern a lot of my decisions - particularly my fear of failure. When I was younger, I believed that I had to be the best at everything, otherwise I shouldn’t do it. Academics were easy, so I would sign up for every AP class and spend hours reading my latest stack of books from the library. I loved school and never doubted my ability to take on an academic challenge.

Athletics didn’t come as naturally to me, so I stayed away from sports. It didn’t help that I was chubby from my hours of sitting and reading all the time, so physical activities were even more daunting to me.

When I first started practicing yoga with my mom, I had a similar approach to practice only what I was good at. My spine was naturally flexible, so I took on backbends and avoided more challenging poses like core work or inversions. This method of practice didn’t help me progress. If I had stayed on that path, I also would likely have developed back pain because I didn’t have the strength to support myself in backbends.

It wasn’t until I changed my perspective, both metaphorically and literally, that I made significant progress in my yoga practice and my overall life. Metaphorically changing my perspective allowed me to see challenges as opportunities for improvement. I pushed myself to attempt things outside of my comfort zone like taking new subjects in college or talking to professors who intimidated me. I made a rule that I would never tell myself I couldn’t do something because it didn’t come easily on Day 1. I applied this rule to my yoga practice, and started practicing the poses I had avoided.

My perspective also literally changed because I started practicing headstand, handstand and forearm stand, taking me upside down. These changed the way I saw the room around me, which changed the way I focused on my practice, my breath, and my balance.

It’s amazing, but a subtle shift in perspective can lead to radical changes in your practice and maybe even your life off the mat. Not only can inversions change your perspective, but they have many other benefits, which I wanted to share.

What Are Inversions?

Inversions are any pose where your head is lower than your heart. It doesn’t have to be handstand, but downward facing dog (adho mukha svanasana), legs up the wall (viparita karani), shoulder stand (salamba sarvangasana), headstand (sirsasana), forearm stand (pincha mayurasana) are all inversions.

Physical Benefits

  • Improve circulation - Gravity acts on our blood like anything else, making it easier for blood to flow down to our lower body. Going upside down helps oxygen-rich blood more easily flow to major organs in the upper body like the brain.

  • Strengthen your core - To safely practice inversions safely (and all yoga poses), you have to engage your core. The more I have strengthened my core, the easier I have found practicing inversions because it creates stability.

  • Aids digestion - I like to think it helps with bowel movements too by moving trapped waste.

Mental Benefits

  • Energize or relax - Depending on the inversion, you can feel energized and ready to take on the day or you can feel relaxed and ready to quiet down. The effects depends on how long you’ve been practicing (advanced yogis may find headstand to be relaxing, while others may find it to be energizing).

    Energizers - Handstand (adho mukha vrksasana), upward facing bow (urdhva dhanurasana)

    Relaxers - Legs up the wall (viparita karani)

    Depends - Headstand (sirsasana), shoulder stand (salamba sarvangasana), downward facing dog (adho mukha svanasana)

  • Make us humble - Inversions are challenging and require being okay with falling. We’re not always perfect and no matter our level of skill, there is always a way to make it more challenging.

  • Build confidence - At the same time, inversions have made me much more confident and adventurous in my practice. I used to think I would never be able to hold headstand away from the wall or kick up into handstand, but with enough practice, I got there.

  • Improve focus - To hold inversions, you must focus. I often find that when my mind is racing, I will fall over or lose my balance.

  • Connect us with the crown chakra - With the fresh blood rushing to our brain, we are enabling a greater connection to our crown chakra, promoting wisdom, empathy, and freedom.

Contraindications

Not to make it sound like a drug disclaimer, but not everyone should practice inversions. Avoid them if you have back issues, scoliosis, hiatal hernia, high blood pressure, glaucoma, or dizziness. I truly believe that the beauty of yoga is understanding what poses are right for your body. The end goal isn’t to be able to do a fancy looking pose!


I am by no means advanced at many inversions, but I wanted to share this post because I believe that we all have room to grow, no matter our level. I am fortunate to have many teachers at Modo (Val and Randy) and Yogaworks (Kevin) who continuously remind me to overcome my fears and try new things in my practice.