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Where to Start When You're New to Inversions
by Pamela Jean Nixon


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Inversions are challenging, there is no question about that. They take time, effort, practice and patience. But there is such a rush that comes along with accomplishing something so challenging that makes them sooooo worth while! You may have seen yogis who have been practicing for a while seem to float up into an inversion making it look effortless. But when you’re a beginner it can be a bit overwhelming. Where do I start? What do I do? Try following these steps to begin working towards a beginner inversion practice.
1) Begin with a few rounds of Surya Namaskar, Sun Salutation, (or any other sequence of poses you are familiar with) to warm up the body. While it can be tempting to jump right in and try to flip yourself upside down, a proper warm up for the body is necessary and believe me you will feel it if you skip this step!!
2) Downward Facing Dog - Although we tend to think of other poses first, down dog is an inversion, too. Come into down dog when your ready and begin to work on your foundation here, your hands and feet. Feet are separated hip width apart, even wider if there is tightness in the hamstrings (muscles in the back of the upper leg). Heals are reaching down towards the mat, but it isn’t important that they reach; it is just the direction they are traveling. You can keep a little micro-bend in the knees here, if needed. Hands are shoulder width apart, fingers spread wide. Root the hands into the mat and press the inner edges (thumb and pointer finger side) down. Squeeze the mat with your hands to activate the muscles in the hands and wrists. Tail bone is reaching up and back and your chest pressing back towards the thighs. Begin to peddle out the legs, bending the right knee and then the left, warming up the body and loosening up the hamstrings. Stay in down dog for 5 breaths if you can, then lower your knees down to the mat and sit back in child's pose to rest for a few breaths. Return to down dog. Repeat 2 more times. 

3) L-Dog (or half handstand)- L-dog is a great place to start when you are learning handstand as it introduces both your mind and your body to the idea of being upside down. With your back to the wall come into downward facing dog (following the foundational steps mentioned in number 2.) Begin to step one foot up onto the wall behind you, keeping that knee slightly bent and pressing the entire foot firmly into the wall. Then step the second foot up, both knees are bent now. If only the balls of your feet are on the wall begin to press the entire foot, including the heal, into the wall. Locate the spot on the wall that is in line with your hips and walk both feet up or down to that invisible marker if they aren’t already there. Slowly begin to straighten the legs. You will feel your weight shift forward a bit as you straighten your legs and your shoulders come over your wrists. Look down at the floor, just a few inches behind your hands. Continue to press the inner edge of your hands down and squeeze the mat. Hold your L-dog for as many breaths as you can, then slowly walk your feet back down the wall coming into down dog. Bend the knees and rest in child’s pose for a few moments. When you’re ready, come back up for a second L-dog.  

4) L-Dog Variations: From here, if you are feeling comfortable with your L-Dog you can begin to play around with your leg position and weight. From L-Dog extend your right leg up towards the ceiling while pressing your left foot firmly into the wall. Right foot stays flexed, toes pointing back towards the wall. Then lower the right foot and lift the left. Keep the tail bone tucked under to lengthen the low back. When you are ready, walk the feet down the wall, returning to down dog, then lower the knees and sit back in child’s pose. 

5) Hand Stand - Turn to face the wall and come into downward facing dog. Continue to root the hands into your mat as you walk your feet in closer to your hands, arms stay straight. Lift one leg up off the ground keeping it straight, muscles engaged and extending out through the heal. Bend the opposite knee towards the floor and then using the power in that bent leg like a spring start practice hops, feeling the weight shift into your hands. After a few hops on one leg switch sides. You may find that this is enough of a challenge for now and you want to stick with the practice hops, or you may want to try kicking all the way up into a full handstand using the wall behind you for support. Once your feet make contact with the wall, keep the legs straight, feet flexed and tail bone drawing towards the heels. Keep your gaze down, just a few inches behind your hands. You can stay here with your feet on the wall, or practice taking one foot off the wall then returning it, and then the other foot. Once you’re able to find your balance and stability, you can begin to take both feet away from the wall. As you become more comfortable with your handstand, practice kicking up farther away from the wall so that you can try to find your balance without your feet making contact with the wall, knowing it is there if you need it for support. When you’re ready to come down, lower your feet back to the floor with as much control as possible, lower your knees to the floor and sit back in child’s pose. 

6) After your inversions feel free to round out your practice with any other poses you wish. End with Savasana, deep relaxation.

After your savasana, take a moment to reflect, to acknowledge your effort and achievements. Bow your head in gratitude for your practice; recognize your courage in facing a challenging set of poses.  

When practiced regularly, you will be surprised how quickly you build the strength and balance needed for handstand. So carry on inverters, carry on!


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About the Author

Pamela Nixon: I am a Certified Yoga Instructor with an additional certification in children's yoga. I am also an ACE certified Personal Trainer, and graduated from the American Academy of Personal Training in NYC in 2008. I currently live in Somerset County NJ. I teach weekly yoga classes throughout Morris, Essex, Union & Somerset counties for adults and children. I also offer private sessions in the comfort of your own home. For more information or to see a schedule of my yoga classes please visit www.pamelanixon.com.





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