Inversions are the centerpiece of a mature practice in Iyengar Yoga. Many yoga students who practice Sirsasana (headstand) and Salamba Sarvangasana (Shoulder stand) and are not familiar with the potent variations that accompany the King and Queen of asana. Just as the standing poses are the front door for beginning students in Iyengar Yoga, inversions become the “go to” asanas for health and healing.
In standing poses, the work in the arms and legs help students improve mobility and stability while they learn to access the spine. In inversions, the intelligence and muscular strength gained through the standing poses prepare the spinal and shoulder muscles for the variations. Students learn to stabilize the torso and spine while isolating actions in the hip joints.
In 1961 a British newspaper ran this headline: Yoga is becoming popular in the U.K. Impressions of an Indian Guru. The World of Topsy Turvy People. Everything seems better when your’re upside down – even a Queen stands firmly on her head. Why don’t you try? This was the year when Guruji first visited London. He had taught the 81 year old Queen of Belgium to do Sirsasana, at her request. Today we understand that, when practiced conscientiously, the “topsy-turvy” poses have a profound effect on the endocrine, digestive, nervous, and circulatory systems. They can invoke the relaxation response along with all of the mental, emotional and physiological benefits that come with deep relaxation.
In his pivotal book, Light On Life, Shree Iyengar gives only one sequence of poses. It is called Asanas for Emotional Stability. Over half of the poses in this sequence would be considered inversions. They are all supported, thus making them accessible to most people.
The unique benefits that accrue through the Sirsasana and Sarvangasana come when you can stay in a safe and stable posture for five to ten minutes. In the beginning, it is essential to build the strength and suppleness in the shoulders and upper back before introducing the variations. The sequence to prepare for the safe practice of inversions will vary depending on your experience. Seek a qualified teacher to introduce and develop this satisfying practice.