Generally speaking, yoga inversion poses are asanas where your feet are raised above your head like headstand and shoulder stand. But milder inversions, like downward facing dog and legs up the wall are accessible even to beginners.
Practicing inversion poses encourages you to shift your literal view of the world, by presenting it to you from an angle from which you're unaccustomed to: upside down. At the same time, you're challenging yourself to balance your body in a way that it is contrary to your every day way of being in the world. Not only that, but yoga inversions are also believed to improve the functioning of the circulatory, lymphatic, nervous and endocrine systems by reversing the natural flow of blood, metabolic waste and stress hormones throughout the body.
The idea that inversions help cleanse the body and support better overall function of all its systems isn't limited to yoga. Ayurveda theorizes that much of the body's impurities lay in the lower abdomen in the digestive tract. When you assume an inverted posture, the toxins rise up through your midsection (sometimes referred to as the "fire center") and into the collarbone area, stimulating the entire lymphatic system and strengthening the immune system. The longer the inversion is held, the more efficiently waste is released back into the bloodstream for elimination.
Other physical benefits of practicing inversions include strengthening muscles in the neck, back, shoulders and core however, advanced inversions like handstand and head stand can take years to master and should be practices only under supervision of a knowledgeable and experienced yoga instructor. It's important to remember that you don't need to master these advanced inversion to reap the benefits-restorative inversions, like legs up the wall provide the same benefits without stressing the cervical spine.
To practice legs up the wall:
Sit on the floor, legs extended in front you with a wall at your side. Align the outside of your hip, leg and shoulder with the wall and, with your hands behind you for support, begin to lean back slowly.
Pull your knees in toward your chest and swivel your bent knees toward the wall, while turning your torso and upper body so that it's perpendicular to the wall. Adjust your position so that your tailbone comes as close to the wall as possible. Straighten your legs against the wall.
If you experience discomfort in your neck, place a bolster or a rolled towel beneath it for additional support. Extend your arms out to the side, palms facing up, so that your upper body forms a T.
Close your eyes and breathe slowly and deeply. You can stay in legs up the wall anywhere from one to 15 minutes; longer if you like. Bend your knees if you find that more comfortable or practice a modified version of legs up wall using a chair to support your bent knees.
If you're looking to give up a smoking habit, head to your neighborhood yoga studio for some Hatha yoga therapy.
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It's difficult to enjoy your yoga practice if you don't have the right yoga supplies or props to help support your body in achieving postures your body cannot do on its own.