5 Basic Inversions To Ease Stress & Anxiety

For most of us, finding the balance between responsibility, recreation and restoration can be pretty difficult.

As someone who has survived the hardships of an anxiety disorder, a difficult childhood, drug addiction and an accidental overdose, I understand the importance of stress reduction and prevention.

Those of us who suffer from anxiety do so because we are victims of overthinking. We tend to overanalyze situations, constantly evaluating the pros and cons (primarily the cons). This creates fear-based projections about events, people, problems or possibilities that have not yet occurred.

However, by actively participating in activities that challenge our fears and rewire our thinking, we can systematically reduce stress, depression and anxiety.

I've learned throughout my healing journey that true strength is derived from vulnerability. And what makes anyone feel more vulnerable than fear? Because it's when we face our fears that we can really overcome them. I've realized that challenges are just a natural occurrence in life and there is nothing we can do to prevent them from happening. However, how we react to them will ultimately determine just how impactful they will become.

Through the practice of yoga I've learned that in order to get out of my own way, I had to find comfort in being uncomfortable. And there is one aspect of asana that I particularly love and find quite useful for this very purpose — inversions. There are many benefits to a regular inversion practice, including the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system. This produces a sense of calm and balance. Other benefits include the reversal of blood flow in the body, which helps to improve circulation.

Inversions also strengthen your body's immune system by activating the lymphatic system. Since your lymph nodes function as a result of gravity and muscular contractions, inversions can help facilitate this process into the respiratory system, where your body is often the most susceptible for viruses and viral infections.

But for me, inversions taught me to face my fears.

I've always been afraid of falling, which is probably why I am severely afraid of heights. However, that fear of falling (or failing) can expand well beyond the physical realm — to the fear of disappointment. And although I still have not quite mastered the art of inversions, I have in fact mastered the art of trying. I've come to accept that falling is a part of the learning process and that facing our fears will only make us better. But in order to learn how not to fall, we have get past the fear of doing so.

Here are my five favorite inversions that have helped ease my anxiety symptoms over the years and face my fear of falling. Use these poses to balance out your ups and downs, by going upside down! Just be sure to warm up with a few rounds of Sun Salutations before trying these poses.

Dolphin Pose (Makarasana)

Begin on your hands and knees, with your wrists directly under your shoulders and your knees directly under your hips. Lower your elbows to the floor directly underneath your shoulders, keep your forearms parallel to each other. Tuck your toes and lift off the floor reaching your pelvis upward, like you would in Downward Dog.

Keep your knees bent as you lengthen through your spine, pressing out of your shoulder blades. Slowly straighten your legs (or keep your knees bent if you have tight hamstrings). Relax your head and keep your gaze to the floor.

Hold for five breaths then release.

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L-Shaped Handstand (Adho Mukha Vrksasana Variation)

Start by sitting away from the wall with your feet flat against the wall. Place your hands on the floor beside your hips. Then, turn over into a tabletop position. Lift your hips and come into a Downward Dog with your heels still against the wall.

Walk your feet up the wall until they your body is in a L-shape. Engage your core, and straighten your legs and arms. Press out of your shoulders and lengthen your neck.

Continue to press your feet into the wall as you hold for five breaths.

Shoulder Stand (Sarvangasana)

Starting on your back, bend your knees with your feet flat on the floor about hips-width apart. Keep your arms alongside your body with your palms on the floor. Press your palms down and draw your knees into your torso.

Straighten your legs as you begin to raise your hips about 45 degrees. Bend your elbows and bring your hands to the back of your pelvis. Then, slide your hands onto your lower back for support. Make sure your feet are above directly above your head.

Press your elbows and the backs of your arms onto the mat for support. Hold for five to eight breaths.

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Forward Fold (Uttanasana)

From Mountain Pose (Tadasana), bend forward at the hips to lengthen the front of your torso. Keeping your feet hips-width distance apart, grab hold of opposite elbows, allowing your head to hang heavily.

Press your heels into the mat as you rotate your thighs inward slightly. It's important NOT to lock your knees or hyperextend your hamstrings.

Keep your hips over your ankles and hold for five to eight breaths.

Forearm Stand (Pincha Mayurasana) With Wall Support

Begin in Dolphin Pose with your fingers about six inches away from the wall. Start to walk your feet toward your arms by bringing as much weight over your shoulders as you can. Lift your left leg toward the wall.

Continue shifting your weight forward until your left foot is resting on the wall and your right toes are lifted off the mat. Bring your right foot to meet your left foot and rest your heels lightly against the wall for support.

Hold for 5 breaths.

In all inversions, it is important to practice using both legs (not just your dominant leg), so you can learn to strengthen both and develop equal balance.

Cover photo by Taylor Images

Gallery courtesy of the author

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