Meet my friend the headstand. I’ve been working on my inversions a LOT the past year. I’d venture a guess that I’ve spent more time upside down in the previous 12 months than I have in the 20-something years before that.
During all this time on my head, I’ve had a thought or two.
1. I don’t know my body as well as I thought. Or directions.
You think you’re pretty familiar with your legs until you toss them upside down. (NO tossing, actually. Do NOT throw yourself into an inversion. Control, build the strength, DON’T break something important!)
Anyway, once you’re balancing on your head or arms, your legs turn into strangers that have no clue what to do with themselves. Any lower-body awareness you have right side up is meaningless. You must learn that awareness and control all over again.
Simple instructions like “lengthen your spine up, Larissa” or “press your shoulders down” suddenly become very confusing. Up meaning toward my head? Or up meaning toward the ceiling? Because upside down my brain still thinks head and ceiling are the same “up.” Likewise, am I pressing my shoulders down toward the ground or down my back (which is in fact “up” toward the ceiling when upside down)?
2. I can’t watch TV upside down.
I’ve tried. Maybe I will someday when I can focus on more than “breathe. find your focus point. lengthen the back. oops, legs leaning. engage core. press into the floor and reach for the ceiling. good, now keep breathing.”
And that monologue is in headstand, a pose in which I am rather comfortable now. Put me in forearm or handstand, my focus is 100% not falling on my face. Following a TV show (or just exchanging comments with Jon) is out of the question.
3. I have fallen exactly zero times.
That’s the biggest fear when working with inversions. “I’m going to smash my face, I’m going to break my neck. I’m going to fall sideways and take out the person next to me. Or furniture if I’m at home.”
In fact, none of those things happen. I may not control the exit of an inversion as much as I need to, but I’ve never fallen out of one. Turns out the biggest challenge is getting over that fear in the first place.
A good instructor makes a difference. Good form and technique equals protecting your body. So far I’ve had two different yoga instructors work with me specifically on inversions. They each have slightly different styles and I’ve gained a lot of confidence from them both.
4. Inversions are hard work!
There’s a point early on when you think it’s all about the balance. Then you try to pull on a jacket the next day. Arms, shoulders, back, core, even legs. Everything hurts. Granted, I’m still learning and building the necessary strength. At this point in my journey I know not to plan a heavy arm workout the day after some serious inversion work.
A word of caution: don’t overtax yourself with these. One of my teachers often says “leave enough juice to get down with control.” It’s really easy to push too much because I almost have it and just need one more try. Except if I’m too tired I won’t get it and I could injure myself.
Following every inversion practice I do some postures to reset my neck and back. A light bridge while gently pressing the back of your head into the ground does a great job. A shoulder stand or plough pose is nice, too. Legs-up-the-wall finishes off the practice perfectly.