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3 GOOD Reasons for Practicing Inversions

3 GOOD Reasons for Practicing Inversions

Our last two posts disabuse you of the false belief that inversions in your yoga practice will help combat the “negative” effects of gravity. There may be some people wanting to scream at us for overlooking the positive reasons for being upside down. One potentially positive idea that comes to mind is the importance of tractioning, a practice which can relieve pressure on the spine. (Note: this doesn’t have to be done while upside down, but some people do prefer tractioning to be done while upending their usual relationship to gravity.) Sure, yes, being upside down can feel good! But any effect it has on the spine will be temporary, considering we are going to be spending the majority of our time in gravity.

Here are 3 GOOD reasons for going upside down:

  1. It feels good to you!  — Performing movements/asana that feels good, fun, relaxing or all around positive is a good enough reason to do it.
  2. Get to know yourself — Going upside down can teach you about your relationship to your body. Can you stay aware of your position in space? Do you feel strong or weak? Can you choose from where to initiate a fine movement while holding your balance upside down? See how it goes, and then connect to your physical body in a different way.
  3. Stress Test —  Being upside down can be scary. But sometimes confronting fear head on can be a healthy move. See if you can remain calm while changing your orientation to the world.

So is gravity really all that bad? No. Other than the fact that it keeps us securely grounded to the Earth, we each have the opportunity to develop a relationship with gravity that is either comfortable and functional, or tolerate one that is uncomfortable and dysfunctional. You have a choice. Learn to move in space with gravity as an oppressor or as a supportive force. It can happen. Sounds a little nuts, but you have to experience that to believe it. Remember, when you hear that certain poses reverse gravity and are, therefore, “anti-aging” you should question that.  By the way, gravity is not the sole factor behind aging, neither Kim nor I panic about being upside down in order to ensure that we put our organs back in the right place because gravity drags them down (did you miss that claim in the last post?!). We keep healthy movement practices that ensure our muscles, bones, organs, and connective tissues can support themselves despite the efforts of normal everyday life.

As long as you have the knowledge, physical ability and clear intention to sustain an inversion practice, go for it!

Bad Yoga: Being Upside Down Helps Combat Gravity (Part 2)

Bad Yoga: Being Upside Down Helps Combat Gravity (Part 2)

Continuing from our last post

There are two main reasons we don’t subscribe to the notion that inversions reverse the effects of gravity (in addition to a host of other purported benefits):

Reason #1)  Homeostasis, as applied to biology, is the physical body’s way of preserving an internal state of balance. An example of homeostasis is thermoregulation or the maintenance of body temperature: (from another site) special sensors sense the temperature of the blood and send the information to a part of the brain known as the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus “knows” that the proper temperature should be about 98.6°F. If the sensed temperature is significantly higher, the hypothalamus sends signals to the sweat glands of the skin and the surface blood vessels. The sweat glands produce sweat evaporates and the blood vessels dilateallowing more heat loss through the skin. In contrast, if the sensed temperature is low, the hypothalamus sends signals to muscles to cause shiveringand the surface blood vessels to constrict.

So this basic concept of our body, keeping a constant and certain standard in many biological functions is a key principle to our survival. Let’s think about that. Will putting your legs up the wall really make it easier on your heart to pump blood to extremities? No. It will do what it has to do to make sure our extremities don’t lose circulation, as it successfully does all the time.  Just like going upside down won’t stop the menstrual flow or reverse it (another controversial issue in the female yoga practice).  Being upside down also won’t send more blood to the brain, not if your blood brain barrier is working. Will being upside down help with lymph flow?  Maybe, sure, why not? All movement keeps lymph flow at an optimal level, so yeah. Coincidentally, the sometimes not so pleasant sensation of “blood rushing to your head,” is actually not blood. It’s a fluid from the vestibular sacs in your inner ear. JUST SO YOU KNOW, blood is inside of vessels and has its own pump system for a reason; it doesn’t just pool where gravity’s pull is most evident.

Circulation to the brain, which is another assumed benefit of inverted postures, does not increase. If you were never upside down in your whole life you probably would still have the brain function you need.  Optimal brain function is influenced by other factors.

Bottom line: Your body will (for most of us) fight to maintain a standard of function despite your relationship with gravity, even if that relationship varies. So going upside down does not necessarily combat gravitational forces, especially given the fact that we have a particular and active relationship with gravity most of the time. Any little bit of time we spend upside down won’t be enough to permanently change anything. Even if we spent 50% of our time “upside down,”  that condition might become the new “right side up” to certain internal structures, thus sabotaging the ideas put forth in yoga classes.  Some part of you will always be subject to gravity at all times!  We simply do not have the scientific data of enough people spending enough time in these poses to create a real picture of what the effects on the physical body would be.

(Before people start screaming, are there good reasons for ever being upside down? Yeah, sure!  But that post is coming a little later.)

Reason #2) Belief in the inherent value of yoga postures is a slippery slope to an unjustifiable dogma. You know what we mean. You hear wanna-be axioms such as; “Twists cleanse your organs,” “Being upside down increases brain activity,” “Doing shoulder stand is good for the thyroid,” “Belly breathing is the most beneficial way to breathe,” etc.  By now you know us well enough to know that we don’t agree with any of that. This disagreement is not evidence of our contrarian nature. It is evidence of the fact that we are critical thinkers who don’t take information for granted without exploring it in our own bodies or doing research in the academic/scientific realm.

What this means: like many of our beloved teachers, we do not subscribe to a system of yoga. We do not believe as an absolute truth that certain yoga poses themselves embody any inherent or immediate benefits or harm, as applied to the entire human population.

Questions or comments about that?  Let us know below!

Bad Yoga: Being Upside Down Helps Combat Gravity (Part 1)

Bad Yoga: Being Upside Down Helps Combat Gravity (Part 1)

Ok, so many ways to try and address this.  First let’s just try to get our thoughts organized, so that this doesn’t get out of control.  Here’s what is typically said in many yoga classes, “gravity is harmful to us or at the very least takes it toll on human bodies as we age.”  The follow up to that statement is the postulate that inverted yoga poses can help combat those gravitational forces.

No.  no no no no nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

In case you haven’t heard these statements before, here are the results of a google search using “yoga poses fights gravity”:

When we turn the body upside down, we reverse the pull of gravity and create long-lasting benefits for our entire system! Some claim that for every minute spent in headstand, the aging process is suspended. Inversions (even half inversions like downward facing dog or standing forward bend) allow a fresh flow of blood to the brain, they enable you to see the world from a different perspective, and, when you can get your legs above your heart, they provide a much-welcomed rest for the circulatory system. I’ve had many students tell me they measure at least an inch taller after beginning a consistent yoga practice.

In a sense, spending time upside down temporarily suspends aging since you aren’t susceptible to gravity in the same way that you are for the vast majority of your life. You also give your heart a break, as it doesn’t have to work so hard to get blood to and from your extremities when you are upside-down. This little breather helps your heart gather its strength…Finally, inversions help the flow of lymphatic fluid, which is an important component of the immune system.

Because forward-bending poses fight against gravity by turning the head toward the ground instead of toward the sky, Fanto refers to them as fountains of youth. Blood flows into the face faster, bringing with it oxygen and other helpful nutrients that fight free radicals, encourage skin cell renewal, and give the visage a rosy glow.

It reverses gravity (yes, it’s anti-aging!), restoring the position of vital organs and increases the circulation to the neck resulting in an improved quality of sleep (which might be the main reason why you find yourself so tired in the first place). Circulation to the brain also surges, which can help things like intelligence, memory, vitality and confidence. Inversions are revitalization incarnate.

Honestly, no offense meant to the quoted sites.  Despite the fact that we disagree with the popular thinking that makes up the yoga-gravity dialogue, these sites may still be full of other useful information.  But the aforementioned dialogue does need to be acknowledged and engaged with in such a way as to improve upon our work as yoga teachers.

There are immediately two concepts that have not been mentioned that if included would make this “yogic science” more well-rounded and valid:

  • Homeostasis – a process in which the body’s internal environment is kept stable.

  • A belief in the Inherent value of of yogic postures

This first part of the post is to get you familiar with popular, but scientifically questionable claims surrounding an inversion practice.  Part 2 of this post will discuss why we don’t agree with what has been covered here now by analyzing the claims through the lens of homeostasis.  Part 3 will tackle the (we think controversial) belief in the power of yoga poses to affect the human experience in specific ways.  We will further flush out and use these two concepts as an argument against the use of inversions for the purpose of combating the effects of gravity. We look forward to any thoughts you may have to contribute to this discussion.  Please feel free to use the comments section or our FB page.

Amy Matthews Talks Yoga Myths


You’ve seen her mentioned quite frequently on our blog, because we refer to Amy Matthews‘ teaches a lot!  She is an amazing anatomy and movement teacher.  Amy can help you to reach levels of understanding/sensing in your body and looking at others that is just about miraculous.  If you haven’t had a chance yet, you need to go to one of her classes or workshops.  (We’re lying; don’t come to NYC.  She’s all OURS!!!)

You know on this blog we love busting yoga myths.  Well, Amy elevated the myth busting thing to a whole other level.   Take a look at this excerpt:

Yoga Guide: Inversions seem to inspire a lot of anatomical claims. Can they cause retrograde menstruation during your period?

Amy Matthews: We are constantly in relationship to gravity, and when we change our relationship to gravity it has an effect on our body, definitely.

Our bodies are constantly adapting to changes in our external environment and in our internal environment and seeking a dynamic and shifting state of balance, called homeostasis. While the events of the menstrual cycle are in many ways highly evident, we are constantly dealing with all kinds of factors that affect our balance. More important than coming up with proscriptions for every condition (like not inverting during menstruation) is learning to listen to our bodies and not imposing ideas – either about doing something everyday, or forbidding something on certain days.

Chances are good that different women’s bodies will respond differently to inverting during menstruation, and for some women it will feel balancing and for some women it will throw things out of balance. Nothing is true for all women, just as nothing is true for all people.

Amy’s language is illuminating and can instantaneously increase your depth of understanding of why formulaic yoga prescriptions may not be the most effective way to use this practice.  Please read the rest of the article and learn just why Amy influences our work so much.  

Bad Yoga Tip #7: Twists “Cleanse” and “Wring Out” Your Organs

Wow, this cat twists the pants off of us. Thanks to Zen Master Ziggy:

Fellow yoga teachers, please stop saying that doing twists (whether seated, standing, or lying down) helps to “wring out the organs”.  Some even go as far as to say they should be done as part of cleanses and can rid the organs of toxins, and that when you release from the twist, your organs are “filling with fresh blood”.  While these may be helpful metaphors, they are for the most part not true and can convey a message that yoga teachers have little to no appreciation for the sciences of anatomy and physiology.

1) Generally (if you are contracting your internal and external obliques as you are supposed to) when you rotate your trunk, otherwise known as a “twist”, you are creating intra-abdominal pressure. What the heck does that mean? Your abdominal organs (with the exception of your kidneys and, arguably, part of your spleen) are encased in a sac called your peritoneum and tethered loosely in place by ligaments. Some of these organs are vacuous (like the stomach and intestines) and some are not (like the liver). When you compress the outside of the peritoneum, the organs will glide around and compress a little.  This external movement helps to facilitate an internal movement, which can be helpful in many ways.  Since organs, like so many parts of the body, benefit and function best when moved, twisting can be super helpful for helping out digestion.  Remember when we wrote this post a while back about breathing and digestion (of course you do!), well the same principles apply here.  It’s safe to say that the body does not function optimally in a stagnant state.  So twist and do so knowing that you are helping create movement in your internal organs, but in NO WAY are they “wrung out.”  That is not possible and if that happens to you or inside of you please go to a hospital, because you are going to die. Also, do the organs fill with fresh blood after a trunk rotation? No, they are CONSTANTLY filled with “fresh” (I’m assuming this means oxygenated) blood, because we have these vessels called ARTERIES whose job is to deliver this type of blood constantly from birth to death. And what exactly do they mean by removing “toxins?”  This is a much debated topic in body science, but if they mean that twisting movements can assist in a metabolic process even on the cellular level, we’ll buy that.  Because ALL movement helps to facilitate metabolic processes on just about all levels.

Now none of the above means that you can’t enjoy metaphor and imagery like, “imagine twisting and creating a spiral staircase of your organs.”  That’s ok if that’s how it FEELS to you.  It’s ok if you FEEL like your organs are in a Coney Island Carnival Carousel accompanied by the NYC mermaids.  This is the beauty of a practice like yoga where one can explore and connect to the uncharted territory of the internal landscape. You can FEEL many things that not everybody else does and that experience is valid (Kim hates the “staircase of organs.”  Mel does not mind it. And yet, we coexist.).  But understanding the anatomical reality is a good place to start from when contextualizing, making sense of and sharing that experience with others.

2) Your organs don’t twist around your spine.  For context, imagine lying on the floor with your knees twisting to one side and your head twisting to the other.  Going back to the “feelings” issue: You might feel or be directed to allow “the internal organs to twist around your spine,” BUT they don’t. The peritoneum is ALWAYS in FRONT of the spine… with no exception.  In a different relationship to gravity, such as a seated twist, you may FEEL as if the organs are moving around the spine, especially if you turn your head to the opposite direction than your knees.  Doing so can enhance sensations, because you are playing with proprioception, nervous system functions, and if the muscles on the front of the body are tight then you are feeling them stretch. Don’t confuse feeling muscles stretch, connective tissue move and tracking the subtle spinal sensations for organ movement.

3) As stated above, yes, movement is GOOD for the body.  Therefore, twisting can be really good for improving digestion and relieving acute constipation, gas and other general indigestion.  But it should be noted that not everyone’s guts or enteric nervous system enjoys being so stimulated. Again, you will find exceptions to every rule.  So as long as twisting doesn’t aggravate an already agitated system than feel free to enjoy.  Go forth and twist as much as you want, safely of course (respecting the limitations of your body)!  Because now that you know what’s really going on in the body you have better chances of performing twists with awareness, which opens the door to theREALpossibilities and benefits.