Over Easy: 4 Gentle Alternatives to Inversions
It’s said that Headstand (Sirsasana) is the king of yoga postures, while Shoulderstand (Sarvangasana) is the queen. Handstand (Adho Mukha Vrksasana) and Peacock (Pincha Mayurasana) certainly must also live in the royal court. These “inversions,” so named because they invert (or switch) our bodies’ relationship to space and gravity, have numerous health benefits.
On the other hand, these postures are quite challenging. They require considerable core strength, an open shoulder girdle, and physical awareness of how to use these things together in order to achieve the postures. Not to mention the fear of falling that many people experience.
What if you’re a yoga beginner, and haven’t yet learned how to execute these postures? What if most or all of your practice is at home, without an instructor to guide you in learning them? What if a medical condition fully prevents you from executing them, or makes it potentially dangerous to do so? Should you not be able to experience the benefits that inversions can offer?
Absolutely not. With wise modifications, the benefits of yoga are open to all people. Any pose that has the head notably below the heart is classified as an inversion. Many such postures—such as the four following ones—are far less strenuous, more accessible to practice, and sometimes safer than the traditional inversions. These postures are easily incorporated into an easy yoga sequence at home.
Yoga Props You’ll Need:
1. a mat
2. a clear wall
3. a bolster or 1-3 oversized pillows
4. a yoga blanket
5. 2 yoga blocks
Hold each pose for ten breaths, or longer if you wish and have time to do so. These postures are all supported with props.
Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose)
1. Drag your mat to your wall. Place two blocks, the longest way, somewhere at the top half of your mat (depending upon your height).
2. Fold a blanket in half (not pictured), and then roll it (from the long edge) to create a long and sturdy blanket roll. Place that along the wall (along the short edge of your mat).
3. Take Tabletop pose with your feet on the blanket roll (balls of feet on your mat, heels on top) and your hands on the blocks or the mat. They can be a bit in front of your shoulders for now but draw them back if your stance feels too long in your final pose here. (You may try not using the blocks (as pictured above) if you might feel as if your practice of this pose is more stable and integrated without them.)
4. Lift your hips and straighten your knees to take a Supported Downward Facing Dog. Feel a lift of your forearms, adding a buoyancy that can further raise your hips. Feel your biceps spinning forward to stabilize your upper body. Spin your inner thighs back and pull your belly in.
5. With those refinements, see if you might have the stability from which your body can lengthen and soften in the pose, like melting taffy. Feel your heels gradually sink deeper into the support of the blanket roll.
6. Make any other adjustments that you need to be more comfortable —it’s worth the time and effort.
7. If you feel as if your head could use more support, place a bolster (or large rolled blanket) longways on your mat (as pictured) – onto which your head can rest.
Prasarita Padottanasana (Wide-Legged Forward Bend)
1. Lay your mat fully out.
2. Place your bolster/rolled blanket/row of large pillows across your mat, about half-way or mid mat (to support your head in this forward bend).
3. Step to a wide straddle, about three to four feet (depending on the length of your legs, wider if they’re on the longer side) around your bolster. It should fall under your torso and pelvis. Keep a micro-bend in your knees.
4. Place your hands on your hips (feel for your bony hip points, if you’re not quite sure where they are).
5. Hinge your torso forward, your spine straight. Your head should fall on the bolster. If it doesn’t quite make it there, add a pillow or block (or more).
6. Keep the micro-bend in your knees, and have that help you keep your weight mainly on the balls of your feet.
7. Press into your big toes, but lift up your insteps (the inner parts). Let that action spiral upwards through your legs, so that your thighs roll outwards (and away from one another). This will stabilize your lower body so that your upper body can release and relax.
8. Focus on your breath, and let that bring you ease. Let this be your easy yoga.
Uttana Shishosana (Puppy Pose)
1. Fold your blanket in half, then roll it up from one end to the other.
2. Place your blocks in front of the blanket roll, and towards the outer edges of your mat (facing the long way, as pictured).
3. Come to Tabletop Pose with your hips over your knees, pressing firmly into your shins and tops of feet, and your inner thighs spiraling backward.
4. Drape your torso over the blanket roll, so that your chest falls on the blanket roll and your head moves toward the block.
5. Place one hand on each block. Spread your fingers, slightly lift your forearms, and spin your biceps gently up – all in order to stabilize the pose and avoid straining any involved upper-body parts.
6. You will likely feel sensation, but this posture variation should be comfortable rather than rigorous.
7. Do keep your inner thighs slightly drawing back, so that your lower body stays stable and its joints stay in safe alignment.
8. Do keep your abdominals slightly engaged, especially if you have a hypermobile back, in order to support your spine. But relax your chest, face, jaw, shoulders, and arms, particularly on your exhalations. With your inhalations, gather more length through your spine. With your exhalations, soften that length. Continue this easy, supportive dance of the breath.
Viparita Karani (Legs Up-the-Wall Pose)
1. Go to your wall, and place your bolster parallel to the wall and about 3-5 inches away from the wall. (Alternatively, you can place your lower legs over the seat of a chair.)
2. Sit along its long edge, and then spin on the hip touching the bolster to then lie on your back.
3. As you spin, your feet will rise to the sky. Engage your abdominals a bit to lift your hips, enough to lay your bum, hips, and low back on the bolster (your back will also have to scoot towards the wall). Your bum should be slightly off the edge of the bolster, moving toward the wall.
4. Your whole body is supported here. Your upper body on the floor, your lower body by the bolster (and maybe other props) and the wall or bed. So allow yourself to be supported.
5. Allow your entire backside to soften, especially on your exhalations, and allow that softening to seep into your front side.
6. If it is comfortable for you, close your eyes, and turn inward. Listen to any messages that your body might be offering.
7. Let any thoughts be no more than that—just thoughts, temporary things that can pass without drama. Know that in a short time and without extraneous effort you nurtured your body, mind, and spirit. Know that, for you today, that’s more than plenty. Allow that abundance to fill you here.
More on inversions and your yoga practice from YogaUOnline and writer, Luci Yamamoto: Inversions – Should You go Upside Down if you have Glaucoma?
Love a gentle yoga practice and gentle inversions? Study Restorative Yoga with YogaUOnline and Judith Hanson Lasater: Breathe, Heal, Relax and Renew – An Introduction to Teaching Restorative Yoga.
Kathryn Boland is a RCYT and R-DMT (Registered Dance/Movement Therapist). She is originally from Rhode Island, attended The George Washington University (Washington, DC) for an undergraduate degree in Dance (where she first encountered yoga), and Lesley University for an MA in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, Expressive Therapies: Dance/Movement Therapy. She has taught yoga to diverse populations in varied locations. As a dancer, she has always loved to keep moving and flowing in practicing more active Vinyasa-style forms. Her interests have recently evolved to include Yin and therapeutic yoga, and aligning those forms with Laban Movement Analysis to serve the needs of various groups (such as Alzheimer’s Disease patients, children diagnosed with ADHD, PTSD-afflicted veterans – all of which are demographically expanding). She believes in finding the opportunity within every adversity, and doing all that she can to help others live with a bit more breath and flow!