Inversions are the reward for a disciplined effort of asana practice. After the body has been heated, lengthened, and wrung out by postures, it releases during the inversions, and a luminous quiet washes into all of its tissues.
Inversions are the reward for a disciplined effort of asana practice.
Of course, inversions don’t always feel this way because it is easy to try too hard to “do” the pose or to hang onto habitual tensions. Beginners attempting the headstand and shoulderstand often experience the postures primarily on a muscular level as they learn the mechanics of the poses. There is no way to get around this process for learning these more difficult inversions, but a simpler supported inversion can teach the deeper art of bodily surrender and give an experience of the expansive peace that is the true hallmark of inverted postures.
One of the simplest inversions is lying on the floor with your legs propped up against a wall. Using one or two folded blankets to provide a slight lift to the pelvis is optional and emphasizes the massaging action of the breath on the abdominal organs. But even if you choose to do without the blanket’s extra lift, you’ll still reap the benefits of a thorough draining of venous blood and lymph from the legs, as well as a conditioning of the endocrine and cardiovascular systems as the circulatory system’s pressures shift to work against gravity. A small cushion under the neck supplies additional support so that the entire spine can release.
One of the simplest inversions is lying on the floor with your legs propped up against a wall.
To begin the supported inversion, lie on your side with the knees in toward your chest so that your torso is perpendicular to the wall and your buttocks are against the wall. If you’re using the optional blanket, it should be folded and positioned neatly so that one side is flush with the wall (and the other side extends to your mid-back, at least to the top of your lumbar area). When you’re preparing to come into the pose, be sure to position the blanket directly behind your pelvis and have the neck cushion nearby if you choose to use one.
Come into the pose by rolling onto your back and shifting as needed to get your buttocks against the wall. Then straighten your legs. If you’re using the blanket, you should have rolled onto it so that it supports your entire pelvis and lumbar spine. Any space under the pelvis means that your buttocks are lifted up the wall, thereby straining your pelvis and spine. Place the optional cushion under your neck, not your head, so that it supports the natural curvature of the cervical spine. The cushion should be small enough to allow the neck to remain neutral and should not lift the head more than an inch off the floor.
Set up this posture precisely so that your body can release deeply and learn a configuration free of kinks and obstructions. Be sure your spine is perpendicular to the wall, your neck supported, your throat open, and your shoulders down away from your ears.
Let your hands rest on your lower abdomen and feel the movement of your breath drop down into your palms. Encourage your breath to be rhythmic and to flow constantly while you let go of any forceful effort to control it.
Feel the movement of your breath drop down into your palms.
Stay in the pose as long as it feels restful and healing. Keep your attention on your breath and the feelings in your body—don’t fall asleep or space out. It’s time to come out if your legs start to feel too drained or tingly.
To exit the pose, bend your knees and bring the soles of your feet against the wall. Rest here for a few breaths, then roll onto your side and shift your bottom arm to support your head. Lie on your side until you feel that your blood pressure has normalized—getting up too quickly could result in lightheadedness or even blacking out.
Although this posture seems easy, it teaches an important experiential lesson: it allows the body to learn how to open to a flow of cleansing and nourishment that is greater than what could be brought by human effort alone. Its practice will help you use asana to learn a bit of the true art of surrender.
After bending your knees, roll onto your side and support your head with your lower arm. Lie here for at least several breaths.
The buttocks are away from the wall with the top of the pelvis hanging off the blanket; this leaves the lower back without support and strains the sacrum. Also, the cushion is positioned under the head instead of the neck, compromising the alignment of the cervical spine.
- Builds familiarity with inverted orientations.
- Gently massages the abdominal organs.
- Brings deep refreshment to body and mind.