Have you ever been to a Yoga or Pilates class? If the answer is “yes” then chances are you’ll have already experienced inversion exercises.
You might not know it though.
Because an inversion is anything that brings your hips above your heart and your heart above your head. So, although this could mean something as advanced as a Yogic handstand, it also includes simple Yoga moves like Downward Dog and Child’s Pose.
Although more commonly associated with Yoga, these types of exercises are as integral to the Joe Pilates method as they are to that ancient practice. After all, one of Pilates’s main aims are to move the body in all planes, directions and orientations. The addition of an inversion to a mat or equipment class is the perfect way to achieve this.
But inversions aren’t for everyone. They should be avoided by people with high blood pressure, acid reflux, spinal instabilities and glaucoma. If you’re unsure, check with your healthcare provider before attempting one.
For those of you ready to turn your world upside down, however, here are 4 surprising benefits of inversions to motivate you.
1. Inversion exercises promote spine health
Gravity acts upon your body all day long. This downward pressure compresses the spine and dehydrates the sponge-like disks that separate the vertebrae. These disks act as shock absorbers; they protect the spine and spinal nerves. When they become dehydrated, however, the spine becomes less mobile and is at greater risk of injury.
On top of all that, spines usually have to deal with further stresses in the form of heavy bags and hunched computer postures.
With this in mind, it’s little wonder that so many people suffer with spine-related issues.
But inversions can help combat these problems and ease stiff backs.
How? Well, when you tip your body upside down you immediately reverse the pull of gravity. This helps to decompress the spine and create space between the vertebrae.Studies show that this then allows for the absorption of moisture into the soft tissue of the discs. This rehydrates and plumps the discs.
And the benefits of inversions for back health don’t end there. Certain Pilates exercises like Roll Over on the mat and Short Spine on the Reformer support the spine in other ways.
In both cases, the act of rolling the spine against a cushioned surface acts as a massage for the muscles and fascia of the back. Plus, through regular practise, these types of inversions improve flexibility of the spine and abdominal strength.
2. Inversion exercises boost lymphatic drainage
According to many experts, inversions support the lymphatic system.
This is important because a functioning lymphatic system is vital for our wellbeing by helping us maintain a healthy immune system. It does this through acting like the body’s drainage system by cleansing it of cellular waste. More specifically, lymph fluid (comprised of vessels that make up the lymphatic system) carries toxins from cells to the lymph nodes where they are removed.
Unlike the circulatory system, however, the lymphatic system has no heart to pump it around the body. Instead, this system relies on the movement of muscles and breath to get it flowing.
Which is where inversions come in. Flipping your body the wrong way up is said to stimulate the flow of lymph and therefore aid this cleansing process.
3. Inversion exercises aid digestion
Humans have the tricky task of having to push waste matter through their digestive system against gravity. But inversions can help give your belly a break.
Changing the way gravity acts on your stomach can assist the movement of waste through the ascending colon. Doing so also helps stimulate stronger peristalsis (the muscle contractions in your digestive tract), which further assists the digestive process.
As with twists and gentle stomach massages, inversions can also increase blood flow to the stomach. This is equally beneficial when it comes to digestion.
Just make sure to avoid inversions when you’ve just eaten!
4. Inversion exercises reduce muscle tension
Tense muscles can cause a whole a host of problems. These can range from the physical to the psychological; from headaches and sore backs to feelings of stress. However, inversions may help to reduce muscles tension and with it these problems.
When your muscles are tense, the supply of oxygen to them is restricted. Tense muscles can also affect the flow of lymph around the body. As we’ve already mentioned, this is bad for the body as lymph needs to move freely so that it can cleanse the body of toxins. And there are other issues with stagnant lymph, including – as some research suggests – slowing muscle recovery time after exercise.
This explains the findings in a study by physiotherapist L.J Nosse. In it, Nosse showed that boosting both oxygen circulation to muscles and lymphatic flow through inversions can help to reduce muscle tension.
According to that study, EMG (electromyographic) activity, an indicator of muscle tension, declined over 35 degrees within ten seconds of inverting.
But you don’t need to go as far as a handstand to experience these benefits. Positive effects in trial participants were noted even when only inverted 25 degrees. This means that something simple like an inverted V (pictured above) could be enough to reap these benefits.
Less muscle tension usually means less stress. So, get inverting (safely!) and enjoy the relaxation that follows.
Before participating in any exercise program that may be described and/or made accessible in or through our website, we strongly recommend that you consult with a physician or other healthcare provider.
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