I have a secret to share. Since I’ve been a regular yoga practitioner for years, my strength, balance and flexibility have increased ten fold. I love expressing myself through breath-coordinated movement, focusing only on what’s on my mat and letting go of all the vritti (fluctuations in the mind – unwanted thoughts etc) as a result. Standing postures, seated poses, backbends and arm balances are all part of my regular practice, and I adore each and every one of them for what they bring to me.
Oh, now that’s a different story.
When I was a kid, the most I ever managed to do was a gambol. Cartwheels and backward rolls were not for me, and handstands? Out of the question. I was terrified of breaking my neck, and this fear has been carried through to the last couple of decades too. For most people, inversions are a return to their childhood, to reintegrate ‘play’ back into their lives. For me, however, it’s learning how to face my fears. My irrational neck-breaking phobia is coupled with a rather large dose of kyphosis, making headstands etc slightly more challenging. However, I think that it’s the fear mindset that holds me back more than anything. Now that I am a teacher, I am more comfortable adjusting inversions than busting one out myself!
So what is a inversion-phobic yogini to do? Face that fear. Every damn day.
Cue a brand new blog series – #GetInvertedWithMe . Check out the hashtag on Instagram to see my progress, and join in using this hashtag so I can see how you are doing!
Week One – Strength Building
Successful inversions are a combination of three factors, I am told – strength, balance and confidence. Keep reading for some great yoga postures that will build strength in your upper body and core. As with any new exercise routine, please consult your doctor or a medical professional before trying these poses, particularly if you have any injuries or conditions that may be exacerbated from doing them. Be careful!
1. Plank Pose
This is a great pose for generating internal heat while working pretty much every muscle! Engage your uddiyana bandha (abdominal lock) by drawing the navel in towards the spine. Energise your legs by drawing your heels back behind you, and spread your fingers wide to take the weight off your wrists. Try to make a perfectly straight line from the crown of your head all the way down to your heels, and hold for 5-10 breaths. Come down to your knees for a modification if this is too intense, but keep that line from your head to your tailbone.
2. Chaturanga dandasana (low push up position)
Maintaining the straight line of your plank, exhale as you begin to bend your elbows – keeping them close to your sides. Again, coming down to your knees is a much better alternative to losing correct alignment! A picture perfect chaturanga will include forearms perfectly perpendicular to the floor, with elbows directly over the wrists. While this is what we are aiming for, it depends on your own anatomy as to whether this is ideal for you. You can lower all the way down to the floor, or transition to upward facing dog.
3. and 4. Vasisthasana (side plank variation)
Coming back into a plank as in picture 1, place your right palm in towards the middle of the mat. Stack your left foot on top of the right, flexing both feet to engage the legs and stabilise the hips. Your left arm comes straight up overhead, and gaze towards the left fingertips. Remember, staying on your knees is always an option! From picture 3 (side plank), you can lift up the left foot off the right (picture 4), with the ultimate aim of bringing the left leg perpendicular to the floor, taking hold of the big toe. Engage your uddiyana bandha and keep the bottom hip lifting! 5 breaths.
5. and 6. Navasana (Boat pose variations)
Ah navasana, the ultimate core-strengthening yoga pose! From seated, with your sit bones (ischial tuberosities) grounded, lift up your legs until they are parallel to the mat/earth, and extend the arms. Keep the chest lifting and gaze towards your toes. Gentler modification – hold on to the back of the thighs with your hands for support. Full expression (picture 6) extend the legs straight, with your toes pointed towards the ceiling. 5 breaths, and repeat 3 times.
7 and 8 (Dolphin plank)
From our good ol’fashioned plank pose (which we have now mastered right!) bring your forearms to the mat, so your elbows are under your shoulders, with your palms facing down. Keep the tailbone tucked under, and don’t let the lower back curve/arch in either direction. This will keep your core engaged and prevent injuries. This is SO good for increasing strength in your upper body. If you have tight shoulders, you can use a strap to keep the elbows from splaying out to the side (picture 8). 5 breaths and repeat x 3.
9. Setu bandha sarvangasana (Bridge pose)
From lying down, bend the knees and bring your heels in towards your buttocks, keeping them hip width distance or wider. Making sure the feet remain parallel, lift up the hips to come into a backbend. Interlace your hands and bring them to the mat for support, slightly moving your shoulder blades closer to one another. Gaze down your nose. 5 breaths and repeat x 3.
10. Salamba sarvangasana (Shoulder Stand)
Your first inversion!!! Woohoo! Please do not attempt this without medical guidance if you have any neck/back/shoulder injuries, and ladies – don’t do any inversions while menstruating. Again, from lying down, lift your legs up 90 degrees so your feet are directly over your hips. If you don’t want to take this any further you absolutely do not have to! If you are ready, lift up your hips until they are over your shoulders. Make sure that your tailbone is tucked under, and engage the fronts of your legs, pointing the toes towards the ceiling. 10 breaths.
How does all this sound? Your homework is to do these poses every day for the next fortnight, when the next installment of #getinvertedwithme will be posted! These poses will strengthen the core and upper body, providing a stable foundation for when we go upside down! Excited? Me too 🙂