When you think of inversion therapy, what comes to mind?
Full inversion A-frame tables? Gravity boots where one is hanging upside down? Acroyoga?
It’s simpler than that really.
Inversion is being in a position with your heart above your head.
I grew up with an incline board in our living room. It was the early 70’s and our trailblazing mom was (and still is) a yoga teacher, massage therapist, vegetarian (sometimes) and advocate of naturopathic health.
Seeing her in a variety of inverted poses - headstand, handstand, shoulderstand, and on the Incliner of course, was an everyday occurrence and prompted a bit of eye rolling from my self-conscious younger self. Although, considering I was a gymnast and always upside down, I wasn't one to judge!
Our mom relied on these inversions for rest, renewal and for relief from varicose veins and I now fully appreciate her need to do so.
Back then, the boards were called incline or slant boards. They were popular among Hollywood “Starlets” of the ‘40’s and ‘50’s as a beauty secret, sold at Sears and popularly used until about the 1980's.
But what is inversion...?
Inversion leverages the power of gravity as a natural form of traction and release and has been used as a restorative method for thousands of years. Inversions in yoga include standing forward bend, downward-dog pose, legs-up-the-wall, shoulder stand, handstand and such.
Inversion at a low angle, not more than 16 degrees, is known as gentle inversion. This safe and approachable method invites the body to let go and relax. Gentle inversion works with the systems in our bodies. It nurtures our whole selves which in turn improves our body’s ability to heal.
One simply lies backward with the head at a downward angle and lets go.
There are four major systems in the body that the practice of inversions is said to positively influence: cardiovascular, lymphatic, nervous, and endocrine.
A few of the many benefits of inversion:
- Eases back pain
- Relieves stress and muscle tension
- Reduces swelling in the legs and feet
- Improves lymphatic and vein circulation
- Clears the mind, enhances ability to focus
According to David Coulter, Ph.D., who taught anatomy at the University of Minnesota for 18 years, when one inverts, tissue fluids of the lower extremities drain—far more effectively than when one is asleep. Areas of congestion clear. In a 1992 Yoga International article on Headstand and the circulatory system, Coulter wrote: "If you can remain in an inverted posture for just 3 to 5 minutes, the blood will not only drain quickly to the heart, but tissue fluids will flow more efficiently into the veins and lymph channels of the lower extremities and of the abdominal and pelvic organs, facilitating a healthier exchange of nutrients and wastes between cells and capillaries."
Beyond physical but intricately intertwined, a beautiful thing happens with regular use – it fosters a meditative sensory awareness that can connect us to our whole self, a sense of peace and calm – a reflective, transformative experience for the mind, heart and spirit.
Next week, we'll be discussing the many benefits of gentle inclining and why it works so well.
Kick back and stay tuned!
P.S. the cover image is from Anita Colby's book from 1952 called The Beauty Book. She called it the "Hollywood Slant on Beauty" and wrote of it as an essential anti-ageing exercise.