My introduction to yoga came from a video a friend gave me back in 2000. I remember the moves feeling really good, even familiar to my body, so I decide to look for a teacher. I didn’t know what to expect from the class; I was a bit anxious about being a beginner joining a group that had already been doing yoga awhile. My teacher was superb in calming my fear of being judged and made sure I knew what to do at all times.

My body was pleasantly tired as we approached the end of the class. My teacher asked me to try the feathered peacock pose (Pincha Mayurasana), an inversion by the wall. I just did what she asked me to do without thinking (so fear couldn’t get in the way), and to my greatest surprise I popped into the pose on my first try. It felt liberating to be upside down—I felt strong while being supported by my arms, and powerful with my legs above my head in balance. Since that moment, inversions have become my favourite poses and are always part of my yoga sequences.

Besides attending Hatha Yoga classes, the same teacher taught me a class called Hatha Yoga: the Hidden Language. During these classes, we explored the symbolic context of each asana and were encouraged to take our practice off the mat and into our lives.

Hidden Language Hatha Yoga revealed symbols and metaphors beyond my physical experience. Thus, I learned about the underlying reasons behind my deep connection to inversions: my ease with situations out of the normal order of things, my flexibility in thinking out of the box and my faith in my strength to hold me in whatever place the twists in my life will take me.

I invite you to explore your body and your mind during your inversions to learn what their messages are for you.

Inversions are great for our bodies. They require strong muscles and concentration to keep balance. They reverse the blood flow, which helps to improve circulation. Besides these (and many other) physical benefits, they’re also great poses for exploring our mental status while facing a challenging situation.

Inversions are for advanced students; they’re challenging asanas that require both strength and confidence. Fear is often at play while performing an inversion and for me a leap of faith was also needed to believe I won’t tip over and hurt myself in my first headstand.

Try these asanas and jot down whatever feelings, thoughts and sensations come up. Please note that inversions are for advanced yoga students, and only try them if you have enough experience. Also, I won’t include a full description of how to do the poses because I’d like to concentrate on deepening the experience the asana creates in your body and your mind. Do them as you were taught to perform them. Make sure to warm up before trying any of these poses and have paper and pen around to take notes.

Questions to explore before doing inversions

  • What feelings and thoughts come up while preparing to do the pose?
  • What does being upside down mean to me? Where do I meet this concept in my life?
  • Do I fear being in an upside down position? Do I fear something else? What do I fear exactly?
  • What is my method of getting into the pose?
  • What preparation do I make before the pose? What preparation do I make before a challenging situation in my life?
  • What reactions (feelings, thoughts) do I have when I face a challenging situation? Does anything similar surface now?

Questions to explore while in the poseSirsasana Headstand yoga pose

  • How did I enter the pose?
  • What do I feel?
  • What thoughts and metaphors come up in this state?
  • What do I see?
  • Where is my balance?
  • What body sensations can I recognize?
  • How do I come out of the pose?

Questions to explore after doing the pose

  • Did I experience anything new while performing this inversion today?
  • How do I react when I succeed or fail at performing a pose? How do I react to success or failure in my life?
  • How about doing it again? Do I feel any resistance or urge to repeat the pose? What improvements can I make?

My favourite inversions with specific questions for further exploration

  • Headstand (Sirsasana)
    • What kind of support does my head provide?
    • How does my head function as my foundation (my root, my base)?
  • Right-angle handstand (Adho Mukha Vrksasana variation)
    • As a preparation pose for the handstand, how do I prepare for challenges in my life?
    • What benefits do I gain from preparing?
  • Handstand (Adho Mukha Vrksasana)
    • Where does my strength come from?
    • How do my arms function as my foundation (my root, my base)?
  • Plow (Halasana)
    • Where am I flexible or rigid in my life?
    • How do I cope with pain?
  • Shoulder stand (Sarvangasana)
    • How does my neck function as my foundation (my root, my base)?
    • Where do I find / how can I find relaxation in a challenging situation?

After doing one or more inversions, make sure to finish with a full-body relaxation. Say thank you to your body for the work, the stretch, the learning that has taken place.

To indulge yourself deeper to the Hidden Language of asanas, I recommend these books:

» Swami Sivananda Radha: Hatha Yoga: The Hidden Language

» Swami Lalitananda: The Inner Life of Asanas

image 1: woman doing inversion via Shutterstock; image 2: An adult woman standing on her head via Shutterstock