A home practice can be the most challenging to develop, but anytime on your mat counts. If you only spend 5 minutes, then you had a 5 minute practice. If you spend 60 minutes, then you had a 60 minute practice. It doesn't matter how much time you spend - every little bit matters!
We are so happy to have Karen as part of our Karma Yoga Denton community! Her home practice is inspirational, and she really works on building a solid foundation that can be safely built off of.
Inversions can be pretty challenging, and we always encourage you to practice safely, even utilize a spotter, and understand your own personal limits. Karen offers us some tips and prep work to build up to inversions that maybe you can utilize in your own home practice. Enjoy!
Inversions are a true test of a person’s physical strength, but also their mind. Inversions test your limits, they force you to face your fears, and they humble you. There are many types of inversions like shoulder stands, headstands, forearm stands, chin stands, and handstands. In reality any pose where your feet or heart are above your head is considered an inversion, even downward facing dog.
Whether you’re new to inversions or are looking to push them further, this article can help you with some of the main features necessary like your hands and wrists, your shoulders, your core, and your mind.
Hands and Wrists:
One of the easiest aspects to neglect when pursuing inversions and arm balances is your hands and wrists. It is essential to strengthen and warm your wrists and hands up if you plan to place your weight into them. Our wrists were not made to handle all of our body weight like our ankles, so they’re more prone to injury if not taken care of properly. If you’re looking to improve arm balances and inversions like bakasana/crow or handstand, the video provided below can help. It can also be beneficial for those who feel strain in foundational poses like downward facing dog, chaturanga, upward facing dog, and side plank.
GMB Wrist Preparations: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mSZWSQSSEjE
Another important thing to consider is how to balance your weight between your wrists and hands. There is a tendency to dump all of our weight into our wrists, but they’re not made to hold it all. It is better for your wrists if you also use your fingers; enabling them will help you maintain balance easier in arm balances and inversions.
Finger activation exercise: Stand in front of a table, place both hands (palms down) in front of you shoulder-width apart, and spread your fingers apart. Push the top of your inner knuckles down and create a suction with your palms; the outer circle of your palms will be firmly planted. Now lean yourself forward and shift your weight from your wrists to your inner knuckles and your finger tips. If you’re practicing handstands, you can attempt to slide all of your finger tips excluding your thumbs closer in while keeping your inner knuckles grounded. This is the cambered hand technique which will assist you in maintaining balance.
Strength, flexibility, and mobility in your shoulders is necessary for many inversions like forearm stand and handstand. To improve your shoulders you can focus on downward facing dog, puppy dog pose (against a wall or floor), and child’s pose with side stretches. Once those are more comfortable you can include dolphin pose into your practice. You’ll want to enter dolphin pose with a strap around your elbows and your hands shoulder width apart with a block between them. For the more advanced, wheel and hollowback handstands against the wall can push your limits further.
Core activation is the most essential aspect of all inversions. Most inversion guides online will emphasize core routines including boat pose, chaturanga, cat pose, planks, and everything in between. These poses are essential, but my personal favourites are bakasana/crow, L-sits, lolasana, and knee-to-nose transitions. Moving from one-legged downward dog to knee-to-nose is an incredible way to engage your core and your arms. While L-sits, lolasana, and bakasana are more advanced, I believe progressions towards these are essential for most inversions. In my opinion, bakasana is one of the most important arm balances to obtain before pursuing inversions. It requires physical strength in your arms and core, it gets you mentally prepared to balance with your feet off the ground, and it teaches you how to cope with falling.
In addition to these exercises, you’ll need to learn how to activate your core once inverted. There is a tendency to rely on our back instead of our core once inverted. You’ll need to learn how to pull in your core and recreate a posterior pelvic tilt.
Core activation exercise:
Lay on the floor with your legs straight and your arms laid straight above your head. You’ll notice your passive posture creates a curve in your back, preventing your lower back from touching the ground. For inversions, you’ll want a straight line. To achieve this, tuck your tailbone in, pull in your core (mimicking the action of sucking your stomach in), and try to make as much of your back touch the floor as possible. This will require a considerable amount of core activation, so your core muscles should feel this action. If your practice is already against the wall, also try pike and L shaped versions of handstand, forearm stand, and headstand against the wall for a similar feel of how your core should be engaged.
Your mind is the largest obstacle when it comes to inversions. Inversions require you to learn how to trust your body, your mind, and your soul. They will make your insecurities surface, and they will force you to face them. Even if it isn’t apparent, your fears could subconsciously be the reason you can’t seem to kick your pelvis up above your shoulders, or why you can’t seem to hold an inversion for longer than a millisecond. While strength is admittedly necessary for inversions, even the physically strong can lack the mental strength necessary to invert. Many face their egos, their own self-doubt, and the need to validate their worth. I first began inversions, because I wanted to prove myself and I lacked confidence. With time and after many stubborn attempts, inversions have humbled me. They have the ability to realign your focus and what you feel is important. You’ll need to make peace with your struggles and fears along the way, and accept where you are. Don’t focus purely on the goal, enjoy the journey.
-Remember to breathe! It sounds like a simple task, but it is easy to get lost in the moment. Stay connected to your breath, move with it, and maintain it while inverted. It can calm you down, level your head, and also set you in your place when you need it.
-Inversions require full body engagement, so don’t forget to engage your legs and feet.
-Find a focal point and maintain your gaze while inverted. This will keep you focused and help you balance.
-Don’t overwork yourself. Only try a handful of attempts at a time, and then take a rest in child’s pose until you have recuperated.
-It is always better to practice inversions under the guide of instructors, but you can also video tape yourself for the moments you want to practice at home. Videos help you see what you are doing, so you can understand what you should be doing.
-If you’re looking to move away from a wall, practice in grass or with cushions surrounding you.
-Enter and exit an inversion with control instead of momentum. Take flight into inversions slowly; don’t push it too quickly. You should feel your shoulders and core engaged. It is better to feel your body activated and barely make it up instead of overcompensating with momentum.
-If kicking up into an inversion, don’t think of where your feet and legs should go. Conceptualize where your hips should go instead; they should stack above your shoulders. By switching your focus from your feet to your hips, it can help you in properly engaging your core and finding that hang time upside down.
-If you’re starting to learn headstands, start with a bound headstand before a tripod headstand. The name headstand is deceiving, because your weight shouldn’t actually be dumped into your head and neck. You’ll want to ensure that your shoulders are engaged and that your elbows are firmly planted into the ground. Your arms are necessary for finding balance in headstand; they’re not placed there purely for decoration.
-Before aiming for a straight legged variation in any inversion, find balance in a tucked variation first. Properly performed straight legged inversions are actually one of the hardest variations possible, so remember to take it slowly and enjoy where you are. The tucked variation will prevent you from falling as easily, but it will also help you figure out how to maintain balance.
-Inversions are like a puzzle, and they require you to build a solid connection between your mind and body. Conceptualizing what your body needs to do and what it’s actually doing is incredibly difficult, but necessary. You have to figure out how to activate every part of your body individually before it becomes second nature.
-Be patient! Inversions take time. Don’t be embarrassed to take it back to the basics if you’re hitting a wall or your form is suffering. It is easier to train than to tear down your old habits and retrain.
-When attempting inversions, please be responsible. Know the difference between when your ego and your body are speaking. Always listen to your body if it’s telling you to stop. Some days your body is willing, other days it isn’t.
Karen has been a Denton resident for the past 15 years. She graduated from the University of North Texas with a degree in International Studies focused in Development and two minors in Arabic and Social Sciences focused in political science and economics. Inversions have always fascinated her since she was a child, and now she can't go a day without them. Karen started occasional yoga two years ago and daily yoga a year ago. Yoga has helped her discover who she is and what her goals in life are. She hopes to live a life aiding others, whether it's through humanitarian aid or yoga. Follow her on Instagram @pidkar!