“Inversions on my my my my my mind” – imagine me singing that to “Back in the USSR” and dancing in my desk chair and your probably have a decent idea of how I write these posts! I’m back with another asana post – the first of the year! I promise I will eventually write about something other than inversions, though I’ve been thinking about them a lot and they are my favorite pose family. I even taught my first ever workshop last month and it was about, you guessed it, inversions.
I love an active, feel like a kid at gymnastics camp again, inversion practice, but I also know that it isn’t for everyone. Therefore, I’d like to share a more gentle inversion practice that you can do at home without any possibility of falling on your head. I’m demonstrating the poses with a bolster but if you don’t have one, no worries! A few firmer pillows or a pile of blankets works too.
First up: Supported Bridge
This pose is special in that it is a gentle inversion and a backbend, but your feet are firmly planted on the mat. This is my go-to pose for anyone who is frightened by the idea of inversions but could use the benefits (reseting the nervous system, reversing blood flow, fluid drainage etc). The heart is above the head therefore it’s an inversion. It’s also the supported version of bridge (salamba setubandansana) pose and is great for gently opening up the front of the body without putting a lot of strain on the spine.
There’s some slight boob smush happening here, but not enough to bother me or keep me from breathing. If you are more well endowed than I am and it does bother you in this pose, you could wrap a belt around your upper chest to keep the boobs away from your nose. The bolster is more or less centered on my sacrum but I find that everyone likes the bolster in a slightly different place, so you’ll need to adjust a bit to find the spot that works best for you. I could hang out here forever and it is a restorative pose, so you could nap like this I guess. But stay in it as long as is comfortable and if you start to get lower back pain, it’s time to eject.
Next: Half Shoulder stand
FACT: shoulder stand is not my friend. Until I figured out how to do it with elaborate chair and prop set ups (and that’s another post) I had kinda sworn off the pose entirely. But it’s the “queen of the asanas!” you say…well, ok, that’s true, at least according to some yoga texts. But I don’t think whomever came up with that designation was dealing with boob smush, lower back and neck unhappiness and an annoying lack of core strength.
So for years, I did this version instead. And I still love it. It’s my go-to for classes where I don’t have time to set everyone up in a super complicated prop configuration. It has all the benefits of a gentle inversion and if you make an effort to keep your legs vertical using your abdominal muscles, it even helps with that elusive core strength too!
Getting into half shoulder stand from supported bridge is very simple. If you are on a bolster that has side handles, holding onto them is a good way to go. If you are on a different prop, you might want to place your hands on it to keep it from moving somewhere you don’t want it to go. Then hug your knees into your chest and then slowly straighten them until they are at 90 degrees. The further your legs end up from your chest, the more core strength this pose requires. Make sure your lower back is happy here and then hold for as long as you like.
To come out of either of these poses, you have two options:
1. Hug your knees into your chest and then roll to one side, off the bolster or other prop.
2. Shimmy backwards until your body is off the bolster or other prop and then get up to sit however feels best to you.
If your back is at all cranky, you can hug your knees into your chest or do happy baby pose and roll from side to side on your back to give yourself a nice massage! Happy yoga-ing!