Hunched at your desk and running out of steam by midday?
Instead of reaching for an espresso, move like McCartney and do a headstand.
Building a couple of minutes of upside down time into your day could revitalise your brain, improve your mood, and open up a whole new way of looking at the world, say experts.
Okay, perhaps a full headstand in the office may get you some funny looks from your colleagues but inverted postures (that’s any move that positions your heart above your head) can provide physical relief from hours of sitting or standing, as well as boost blood flow to the brain making you feel more alert, focused and, possibly, calmer.
You can enjoy some topsy-turvy time by simply touching your toes or practicing yoga moves like downward dog – octogenarian Paul McCartney’s epic Glastonbury energy could be due to his daily headstands; and Dua Lipa loves a yoga inversion, crediting them for keeping her strong, grounded and focused.
Or go a step further like author Dan Brown, who is said to boost his creativity by using an inversion table; a fancy bit of kit primarily used for back pain relief but with added medieval torture vibes.
If you fancy a more fun way to get upside down try aerial yoga – your regular practice but done completely via suspended slings to swing, tumble and hang from while twisting your body into Instagram-worthy shapes (check out Holly Willoughby’s ‘inverted butterfly’ position).
How being upside down can boost your body and brain
Our bodies are designed to be upright, so when we turn upside down our cardiovascular and lymphatic systems have to work harder against gravity.
‘The blood will go to your head and remain there – your body is slower in circulating it away as your heart rate decreases,’ Hussain Abdeh, superintendent pharmacist and clinical director at Medicine Direct,’ tells Metro.co.uk.
This rush of blood to the head could be good for us.
Hussain explains: ‘Some studies suggest that inversion therapy provides more oxygen and nutrients to the brain.
‘Theoretically, this could help improve the likes of memory, concentration, and clarity.’
The change in perspective – literally, as we’re viewing the world upside down – could further boost our brain power.
‘The brain has to work hard when upside down as the retina receives the information in a dysregulated state,’ explains psychologist Dr Alison McClymont. ‘The brain stem that sends signals from the eye to the hippocampus, has to work doubly hard to organise the information.
‘Some supporters of inversion therapy believe that this extra effort boosts brain activity and in essence creates a stronger, more efficient brain, but more research needs to be done.’
Hussain warns that inverted postures should be approached with caution, recommending that those with high blood pressure, heart disease, bone or joint conditions, and pregnant women should talk to a doctor before attempting them.
And don’t attempt to stay upside down for long.
Hussain warns: ‘Inversions should not last for longer than a couple of minutes – the longer you’re upside down the greater the risk of experiencing adverse effects.’
How to do inversions
Alana Murrin, yoga teacher and head of ride at boutique fitness studio Psycle, regularly incorporates inverted postures into her practice.
‘Yoga Inversions increase blood circulation and can stimulate the lymphatic drainage system, helping the body to flush out toxins and waste,’ she explains. ‘Getting more blood towards the brain means a more focused and, maybe even, calmer mind too.’
More challenging inversions, such as head and handstands, can seriously strengthen your core helping improve your flexibility, balance and posture, while developing the laser-sharp levels of concentration you need to execute these poses.
But Alana warns beginners against jumping straight in to copy the more challenging inversions they may have seen on Instagram.
‘You will often be on your hands or arms in these types of poses, so exercises to build strength in the wrists, arms, shoulders and core will help stabilise you,’ she tells us.
‘The most important thing to remember is to take your time – slow and steady is the best approach.
‘If you’re new to inversions, know that it doesn’t have to be a crazy headstand or arm balance, a simple downward facing dog can bring the same benefits.
‘Learn safe ways in and out of the poses, and remember to breathe.’
Fancy taking it up a level – as in, to the ceiling?
Ariel yoga cranks up the benefits of inversions to 11.
Daria Ivanova, instructor and founder of Kensington’s Repose studio, which specialises in anti-gravity yoga, believes this type of exercise not only improves the circulatory, respiratory, and digestive systems, but offers superior tension relief and a full body workout.
‘When performing aerial yoga you are forced to use every muscle,’ she explains. ‘Being suspended in the air releases tension in your body and allows you to perform new moves.
‘When hanging upside down, the spine is restored to its natural position and lengthens, which reduces strain on your back and eases tension in the hip joints.’
And while you’re getting physically high, aerial yoga can provide an emotional uplift too.
Daria believes it’s a great stress reliever and guaranteed mood enhancer, plus ‘having fun is a great way to stay motivated while training in a new and exciting way,’ she says.
Three postures to try for an ‘upside down break’ – from the office-friendly to the challenging
Note: Always move in an out of postures slowly, and stop if you feel any discomfort or dizziness.
This floppy fold will release back, neck and shoulder tension, and revitalise the mind.
Stand with feet hip-width apart and knees slightly bent. Slowly bend towards the floor and let the head hang between the shoulders. Clasp the elbows and hang here for a few deep breaths, gently swinging side to side for an extra stretch.
Stand up again slowly.
This calming, grounding move is great for arm and core strength.
Begin on all fours, with hands under shoulders and knees under hips. Push your tailbone towards the sky, keep arms straight and gently push your heels towards the ground. Let the head hang between the shoulders and breathe.
This advanced inversion is a great confidence booster when you nail it.
Practice against a wall, ensuring adequate cushioning under the head.
Begin on all fours facing the wall before placing your forearms and crown of your head on the floor. Clasp your hands around your head, tuck your toes and lift your knees off the ground so that your pelvis is elevated and legs are straight. Walk your feet in until your shoulders are slightly beyond your elbows. Engage your core as you pull one knee to the chest and repeat the other side. Slowly extend legs, one at a time, up the wall. Once stable, pull your heels and hips away from the wall, hold and breathe.
After feeling ‘in a bit of a hole’ exercise-wise, busy PR consultant Courtney Grover discovered aerial yoga and believes spending much of her week upside down has done wonders for her mental health.
‘I find there’s something really freeing about practising inversions, both mentally and physically,’ she shares. ‘Often we hold onto a lot of fear around the idea of going upside down, so when I’m able to master an inversion I feel this overwhelming sense of achievement, as though I can tackle anything.’
Alana explains: ‘Inversions flip your perspective of the world and reverse your relationship with gravity, which in turn can help build a sense of resilience and inner confidence.
‘With the constant stress and busyness of life, we have to take the time to build strength, focus and confidence, and let go of what is unwanted in our bodies.’
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