“Inversions for Beginners” might seem like an oxymoron at first: inversions, or poses where the head are below the heart, are known as some of the more advanced asanas in a physical yoga practice. When the teacher prompts the class to practice headstand, do you typically sit it out or take a child’s pose? If you aren’t sure what to do when the rest of the room is balancing on their heads and yet want to enjoy the benefits (and fun!) of inverting, then this Inversions for Beginners article is for you.
You don’t have to be an intermediate or advanced yogi to begin enjoying the many benefits of inverting. You might be surprised to learn that some basic poses you probably already know are actually inversions. And, if you’re really longing to learn to go upside down, you can begin practicing modifications that will actually help you build strength and train your body to invert one day.
Inversions for Beginners
Want to practice shoulder stand? Try supported bridge pose with the legs lifted.
Shoulder stand is a commonly taught inversion for beginners, but it actually requires a fair amount of core, shoulder, and leg strength to practice correctly. Until you’re ready to practice the full pose, try this bridge pose/shoulder stand modification:
- Come up into supported bridge pose, placing a block or two blocks underneath your sacrum.
- Either clasp your hands around the block underneath you, or hold onto the sides of your mat.
- Lift one leg, and then the other.
- Straighten your legs if possible, or if the hamstrings are tight, keep a small bend in the knees.
- Scissor your inner thighs together, engage your quads, engage your core. Hold for 10-20 breaths.
- To come down, lower one leg at a time down into bridge pose, press into your feet to lift your hips, and remove the block from underneath you.
- Pull your knees into your chest to rest.
Even though this pose is a modification, it should feel hard! You really have to work to engage your entire body. Once you build lower body and core strength here, you’ll be able to practice shoulder stand without putting undue pressure on your neck.
Want to practice headstand? Try headstand prep pose.
After shoulder stand, headstand is the next most commonly practiced inversion for beginners. However, if done incorrectly, headstand can put pressure on and even injure the neck. If you feel like you need to kick up into this pose, you should take a step back and build strength first. Headstand should never be kicked up into. Instead, you will need to use core strength to slowly lift the legs up. To build this strength as well as stability in the shoulders, practice this headstand prep modification:
- Come into dolphin pose (same alignment as downward dog, but with the forearms on the mat)
- Clasp your hands together in the middle of your mat.
- “Plow” the arms forward, lifting your shoulders back away from your ears.
- If you want more, lift one leg, hold for 5 breaths, and then switch sides.
- Hold this headstand prep pose for up to 20 breaths, then take child’s pose to rest.
Again, even though this pose is a modification, it should feel hard (hint hint, ALL of these modifications require work!) Your shoulders should really feel the burn. If you are lifting one leg up at a time, practice engaging your core. Soon you will be pressing up into headstand using core strength instead of relying on momentum, and once you’re up, your shoulders will be strong enough to take pressure off of your neck.
Want to practice tripod headstand? Try wide legged forward fold.
Tripod headstand is definitely a bit more advanced, since it requires even more stability in the shoulders to keep pressure off of the neck. Still, this modification is an excellent inversion for beginners because it will help train your shoulders to be in the correct position. Plus, it’s an amazing hamstring and inner groin stretch, too! To practice wide legged forward fold:
- Bring your feet apart wide on your mat.
- Fold forward, keeping your legs straight and engaged.
- Bring your hands down between your feet to the floor and use a block if you cannot touch the floor.
- Line your fingers up with your toes.
- With your hands on floor, begin to draw your crown to floor, spreading your sitting bones yet grounding down into heels.
- Work to wrap your elbows in.
- To come out, engage your core and lift up.
- For a full video tutorial, click here!
By wrapping your elbows in in this pose, you will build the shoulder strength and set your foundation to practice tripod headstand. One day you may be able to lift up into headstand from this pose… just remember, never kick up!
Want to practice pincha mayurasana? Try dolphin pose.
Pincha mayurasana, also commonly referred to as forearm stand, is an arm balance that requires both strength and flexibility in the shoulders along with proper full body alignment and an activated core. To build this strength and get the benefits on inverting (dolphin pose counts as an inversion!) practice dolphin pose:
- From all fours, place your forearms on the mat parallel to each other.
- Curl your toes under and lift your hips up.
- Press your hips up and back as you gaze between your wrists.
- Keep your forearms parallel, even though they will want to go wider.
- If you feel stable, practice lifting one leg at a time and engaging your core. Hold for a total of 10- 20 breaths.
- To come out, slowly lower your knees back to the mat and take a child’s pose.
The act of wrapping the elbows in and keeping the forearms parallel to one another will help build your foundation for forearm stand. As you feel strong in this pose, you can eventually practice it against a wall and try kicking up into forearm balance. Or, just practice dolphin pose and enjoy both strengthening your shoulders and the many benefits of inversions!
Want to practice handstand? Try downward dog.
Ah yes, handstand, one of the more sought after (and difficult!) inversions. Handstand requires strength, concentration, core awareness, and purposeful alignment of the whole body. Whew, quite the laundry list! You may be surprised to know that one of the most foundational yoga poses, downward dog, is actually one of the best for prepping you for this advanced asana. To practice downward dog specifically for handstand:
- Begin on all fours with your hands shoulder-width apart, under your shoulders, and your knees beneath your hips, feet hip-width apart.
- Spread you palms and spin the creases of your elbows inward so they face each other.
- Curl your toes under, lift your knees and stretch your hips up to the sky. If the hamstrings are tight, keep the knees slightly bent.
- On every inhale, lengthen through the spine, stretch your arms, and press your hands into the mat. Every exhale, lengthen your legs and press them back.
- Make sure to keep your arms straight and the eyes of your elbows (insides) facing towards one another. This will train your arms for handstand.
- If you feel stable, practice lifting one leg at a time up towards the sky and engaging your core. Hold for a total of 20 breaths.
- Take a child’s pose to rest.
If you practice downward facing dog with good alignment and work up to holding it for a minute or two at a time, you’ll really begin to build the strength in your wrists, arms and shoulders necessary to balance on your hands.
We hope you enjoy these inversions for beginners! Even though all of these poses are modifications, they are still inversions (poses where the head is below the heart) in their own right. As inversions, they will help improve your circulation, detoxify your body, boost your energy, and so much more. Happy practicing!