There are days in January when it feels like winter might stretch on forever. The excitement of the holidays has passed, and while the days are starting to get longer, the heaviness of the season may have started to settle in.
These are the days that I crave hibernation. A mug of tea, a blanket, a new book. My mind tells me I should move, but my body feels lethargic and heavy. I just want to surrender to it.
But I don’t. I unroll my mat, I breathe and I begin to move. Slowly at first, but as my body and breath move together something begins to shift.
Why does winter feel like this?
In Ayurveda, often called the sister science of yoga, this is the season of Kapha. There are three primary doshas, or constitutions in Ayurveda. Pitta is the fire of late spring and early summer, Vata is the wind of autumn and early winter and Kapha is earthiness of winter and early spring.
Kapha season tends to be heavy, slow, cool and dense. The nature of the season is reflected in the water. In winter we see these qualities in the frozen rivers and the cold, heavy snow. The world outside is quiet, the time of hibernation.
These qualities, though, can also be reflected in our physical and emotional states. When in balance, Kapha tendencies can provide stamina and endurance, but an excess can cause the lethargy and stagnation we may feel this time of year.
Inversions...Shake off the Stagnation
So how do we shake off the apathy that too much Kapha can cause? In general, movement is key for Kaphas. It helps shift the heavy, slow qualities that can keep us weighed down in winter. But if you really want to shake things up, get upside down.
For some of us, inversions are like wine and chocolate...we are excited before and totally satisfied after. But for many, the call of inversions during class has us slipping away to the bathroom until the coast is clear. Don’t worry, you’re not alone. But inversions aren’t just handstands, there are so many ways to shake it up. First, though, let’s talk about why it matters.
5 Benefits of Inversions:
Sometimes we just need a little motivation, we need to know the ‘why’ before we commit to something new. The ‘why’ can also give us a clear intention when we practice. What are we hoping to get from the pose? Keep this in mind as you move to make the practice even more beneficial.
1. Brain Health:
We spend most of our days with our heads above our hearts and blood flow having to work against gravity to make its way to the brain.
When we invert we bring a boost of fresh blood and oxygen that nourishes the brain cells. This can result in improved concentration and memory.
2. Improved Immunity:
The lymphatic system is basically the garbage collection system for our bodies. Unlike the circulatory system, it has no pump, it moves primarily through physical activity.
The lymphatic system is the first line of defense for our immune system. It helps to fight germs and infection. Inversions encourage the movement of the lymph through the body, effectively taking out the trash.
This is especially great in the winter when everyone around us seems to be sick.
3. Change Perspective:
It has been said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
Have you ever been stuck on the mouse wheel, spinning over and over again in the same direction? Or maybe it’s a habit or pattern you can’t break.
When we turn upside down we literally change the way we see the world, or the challenge we are facing. Pair that with a rush of blood to the brain and we may feel ready to change course.
4. Natural Antidepressant:
Inversions are empowering...it’s their medicine. They make us feel strong and capable. There may be possibility where there wasn’t before. Blood flow to the brain brings clarity.
Getting upside down brings a rush of endorphins, the chemicals that help us to deal with pain and stress. Endorphins also give us the feel good boost, just like a runner’s high.
MId-day, or mid-winter, slump dragging you down? The rush of blood flow, not just to the brain but to the whole body, can be stimulating and invigorating.
Are you craving that afternoon sugar or caffeine jolt? Try getting upside down for a few minutes instead and see how that affects your energy levels.
Handstands aren’t my thing...what else can I do?
A teacher I love once said “The most advanced practitioner isn’t the one in the fanciest pose, they’re the one who chooses the pose that is best for their body that day”. Well, that might not be the exact words but you get the idea.
Many yogis believe that to advance their practice they need to achieve certain poses, and handstand is often on that list. But an advanced practitioner is the one who listens carefully to body and mind, and chooses what is right for them.
An inversion simply means that your head is under your heart. And there is an endless list of poses that do that, we just don’t always think of them as inversions. Here are some ideas to get you started:
Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
Standing Forward Fold (Uttanasana)
Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana)
Legs up the Wall (Viparita Karani)
All of these poses will bring the benefits of inversions, while listening what your body needs.
When To Say No
Inversions can be therapeutic and beneficial...unless they are not. If you are new to inversions it is a great idea to practice with a skilled teacher.
It is also important to know that inversions aren’t for everyone and some conditions are contraindicated (meaning don’t do it!).
It is recommended to avoid inversions if you have:
High blood pressure
Neck or shoulder injury
Any discomfort when you are upside down
Or, say no simply because you need to that day. The most empowering thing you can do in your practice is to honor what you need, and know what you don’t.
So go ahead and turn winter upside down. Shake off the heaviness and get your body moving. Since your body is constantly changing with the seasons your practice may need to as well.