Yoga inversions are various poses, also known as asanas in Sanskrit, in which your heart and hips are above your head.
They may sound intimidating, but don’t worry — yoga inversions start simple and increase in difficulty over time. In the most basic sense, yoga inversions can be as simple as a forward bend. For experts, they can include handstands.
The goal of yoga inversion is to improve your flexibility, circulation, energy, and even self-esteem. Despite its purported benefits, you may wonder whether inversions are safe and right for you.
This article reviews yoga inversion, its health benefits, potential risks, and includes a list of beginner poses.
Yoga inversion is a category of yoga asanas, or poses, that place your head below your heart and hips, therefore “inverting” your body from its normal upright position.
Any pose in which your heart is higher from the ground than your head is considered an inversion asana. This includes common poses such as Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana), Legs up the Wall (Viparita Karani), and Headstand (Salamba Shirshasana).
Yoga inversion is believed to release tension, increase circulation and energy levels, and strengthen muscles. It’s also thought to promote emotional growth, calm the mind and spirit, guide energy toward the heart, and help you become more connected with the earth.
Inversion asanas can range from easy to difficult and should be selected based on your experience, strength, health conditions, and injury history.
Even among healthy individuals, it’s important to know how to safely perform each asana to prevent injury and reap the greatest benefits.
Yoga inversion is a category of yoga poses (asanas) that place the heart above the head. It’s believed to promote better blood circulation, increase strength and flexibility, and provide numerous psychological benefits.
Many benefits have been associated with yoga inversion. Here’s what the research says.
Yoga inversion can increase blood circulation and lymphatic drainage to help deliver oxygen and nutrients throughout the body and remove waste products.
Inverted poses help stimulate venous blood flow from the pelvis toward the heart, where it’s then sent to the lungs to be reoxygenated. This position may also help lower your heart rate and allow for better uptake of oxygen into the blood (
May increase energy levels
Yoga inversion may increase alertness and energy levels (
In theory, poses that invert the body may increase alertness and reduce fatigue. They may do so by increasing oxygen and nutrient uptake in cells and releasing endorphins, such as dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin, that increase attention and improve mood (
Furthermore, being upside down requires focus, which over time, may improve your ability to focus on any situation that comes your way.
Improves flexibility and strength
Inversion asanas require great mind-body awareness and strength to hold the body in a stretched position against the force of gravity, which likely increases muscular strength, endurance, and flexibility over time (
Each pose uniquely targets different muscle groups, allowing for greater overall limb flexibility, range of motion, and strength.
While no studies exist on yoga inversion specifically, one study showed that performing Downward-Facing Dog twice per week for 10 weeks led to significant improvements in knee and hip extension, suggesting greater flexibility in the hamstrings and lower back (
In particular, many yogis claim that inversion yoga has brought a sense of humility, patience, and perseverance, as most people need time and practice to perform them properly.
However, once learned, they can bring a greater sense of confidence in your ability to overcome obstacles in your daily life. It teaches the notion of non-attachment and embraces imperfection.
May reduce swelling and pain
Certain inversion asanas, such as Legs up the Wall, may reduce pain and swelling in the lower limbs by promoting lymphatic circulation. The lymphatic system removes wastes and byproducts from the body and helps maintain fluid balance (
With inversion asanas, the force of gravity paired with gentle movement allows for increased lymphatic flow and blood circulation away from the limbs and toward the heart. As such, this may alleviate pain, discomfort, and swelling (
However, those with high blood pressure or injuries of the lower limbs, back, or neck should avoid inversion poses.
The benefits of yoga inversion include increased blood and lymphatic circulation, as well as improved flexibility, strength, energy levels, and self-confidence.
For most people, inversion asanas are highly beneficial for health. However, inversions can pose health risks in certain populations, and they are the main cause of yoga-related injuries (
Those with joint problems, neck or back injuries, or other similar issues should not practice inversion yoga without the clearance of their healthcare provider.
Since inversion yoga involves the head being lower than the heart, this can cause blood to rush to your face. In people with glaucoma, high blood pressure, or other circulatory issues, it’s best to avoid these positions (
During pregnancy, difficult asanas that completely invert the body, such as Headstand and Shoulder Stand, should be avoided (
Less intense poses that involve four points of contact (both hands and feet on the ground), such as Downward-Facing Dog, have been shown to be safe for healthy pregnant people without pregnancy-related complications or preexisting conditions (
That said, always speak to your healthcare provider before trying any new exercise during pregnancy.
Finally, it’s important to start with simple, low intensity moves when starting as a beginner to reduce your risk of injury. If you’re new to yoga, you may wish to visit an in-person yoga class with a trained instructor to ensure you’re performing the moves safely and correctly.
Those who are pregnant, as well as people with circulation issues or injuries, may need to limit or avoid yoga inversion and should speak with their healthcare provider first. It’s best to start with beginner-level poses before advancing to more difficult poses.
Here are four beginner inversion asanas to try:
1. Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
The Downward-Facing Dog is one of the most popular asanas. It targets the hamstrings, glutes, quadriceps, and upper back muscles.
- Start on all fours, meaning with your knees and hands on the ground.
- Align your hands directly under your shoulders and your knees under your hips.
- Press down on your hands and straighten your legs while lifting your pelvis toward the ceiling. Your heels may leave the ground slightly. Your body will be in the position of an upside-down “V.”
- Keep your knees slightly bent, lengthen your spine, and position your head between your shoulders facing down. You should notice a slight stretch in your hamstrings and upper back.
- Be sure to evenly distribute your weight throughout your body.
- Hold for 30–60 seconds.
2. Legs up the Wall (Viparita Karani)
The Legs up the Wall Pose is a gentle asana that stretches the legs and relieves lower back pain.
- Place a folded towel on the floor where the floor and wall meet. Sit on the towel and lie on the floor. Place your legs up against the wall with the bottoms of your feet parallel to the floor.
- Ensure your sitting bones, or buttocks, are a few inches from the wall and your tailbone, or sacrum, is on the folded towel.
- Keep your legs gently touching the wall with your knees relaxed. You should notice a slight stretch.
- Hold this position for 5–20 minutes. During this time, be sure to practice slow, controlled breathing.
3. Child’s Pose (Balasana)
Child’s Pose is a simple, low intensity pose that can induce calmness and gently relax the spine, hips, shoulders, and neck.
- Start on all fours.
- Sit your hips back toward your heels and fold your chest over your knees, bringing your forehead to the floor.
- Stretch your arms straight in front of your body with your palms facing the floor. You should notice a gentle stretch in your back.
- Hold this pose for 30–60 seconds.
4. Forward Fold Pose (Uttanasana)
The Forward Fold Pose can help stretch the spine, hamstrings, and calves.
- Start standing with your feet hip-width apart and your arms by your sides, then bring your arms straight up over your head.
- Gently swing your arms down to the sides while bending at the hips (avoid bending with your back).
- Place the palms of your hands on the floor in front of your feet or use a yoga block. Keep your legs straight with your knees slightly bent (avoid locking your knees) and your hips aligned with your ankles.
- Lean forward gently to bring weight to the balls of your feet. Try to engage your quadriceps (the front of your thighs) to allow the hamstrings (back of your thighs) to stretch.
- Allow your head to hang and hold this pose for 30–60 seconds.
Once you become accustomed to inversion asanas, you may wish to try more difficult poses, such as Crow Pose (Bakasana), Headstand (Salamba Shirshasana), Feathered Peacock (Pincha Mayurasana), Handstand (Adho Mukha Vrksasana), and Wheel Pose (Chakrasana).
Always get medical clearance from your healthcare provider before advancing to more difficult yoga inversions.
If you’re new to yoga inversion, start with beginner moves and gradually work your way toward more difficult asanas.
Yoga inversion may seem intimidating, but it can provide many health benefits, including improved circulation, flexibility, strength, energy levels, and self-esteem.
Though generally safe, some yoga inversion poses may be difficult and unsafe for certain populations, including pregnant people and those with circulatory disorders or injuries. Furthermore, some poses may not be suitable for beginners and should only be tried by experienced yogis.
Before starting yoga inversion, it’s always important to speak with your healthcare provider before trying a new or advanced pose.
Given the many benefits of yoga inversion, you may want to start including it in your daily movement routine.