Last updated on December 6th, 2023.
Inverted yoga poses are among the most challenging poses to master in yoga, but some of them are also some of the most basic and common poses you’ll run across in the studio. Inverted poses have many different benefits, such as improving circulation and flexibility.
Below you’ll find seven of the most common yoga inversion poses you can learn as part of your yoga practice. While you might have to work your way up to a full inverted pose such as a headstand, these poses have a range of difficulties so that yoga students of any experience level can find the yoga that works for them.
What Happens Within the Head and Body During an Inversion?
Yogis value inverted yoga poses for a variety of reasons. Unlike poses that are not inverted, inverted poses offer special benefits to the person performing them. These are just a few of the advantages of incorporating inverted poses into your yoga routine.
- Improved circulation: Inverted yoga poses force blood back from your legs and trunk towards your heart and lungs, which helps them to circulate fresh blood throughout your body while you pose.
- Lowered resting heart rate: By training your heart to pump against your body’s weight in an inverted pose, you can eventually lower your resting heart rate during any cardiovascular activity. This exercise makes your heart muscle stronger and less susceptible to negative cardiac events like a heart attack.
- Increased endurance: One of the yoga inversion benefits of improved circulation is that it increases the oxygenation of your blood. This in turn lets you exercise longer and more strenuously without becoming exhausted.
- Stimulating the body: Inverted yoga is considered to have a positive impact on lymphatic activity and stimulating the body in general. This can lead to increased immune system response and increased levels of energy.
If you’re trying to become stronger while you’re doing yoga, incorporating some inverted poses can take your yoga practice to the next level. This improvement helps you do more complicated yoga poses as time goes on.
Is Downward Dog an Inversion?
Many people consider Downward Dog an inverted yoga pose since you hold your head below the level of your heart. However, other yoga practitioners also consider Downward Dog a resting or transitional pose between other more challenging poses.
Regardless of whether it is technically considered an inverted pose or not, Downward Dog can offer many of the same physical benefits of other more strenuous inverted poses.
Downward Dog is a good practice pose for yoga students who aren’t quite strong enough to handle more complicated inverted poses. It’s also a great pose to stop and rest in if you grow fatigued between other poses since the inverted position in yoga helps to keep the brain, lungs, and heart oxygenated.
The 7 Most Common Yoga Inversion Poses
If you’re new to inverted yoga poses, you might need to start with some of the more simple inverted poses that are commonly performed and then work your way up to poses requiring more endurance or strength to hold.
Forward Fold (Uttanasana)
The Forward Fold is one of the most simple of the inverted poses, which makes it an easy one to experiment with if you’re still getting started with inverted yoga.
Forward Fold pose is very similar to the calisthenic exercise of bending over and touching your toes. The main advantage of Forward Fold is that it stretches out your hamstrings and your spine. It’s usually recommended that you do the Forward Fold pose several times, going deeper each time to increase the stretch.
To do the Forward Fold pose, you should sweep your arms over your head and downwards, bending your body at the hips to line your fingertips up with the tips of your toes. The Forward Fold pose is released by bringing your hands up to your hips and slowly bending upwards from the hips.
Here are a few more tips for doing the Forward Fold.
- Slightly bend your knees. If you lock your knees in Forward Fold, this can cut off your circulation and lead to a loss of consciousness. Instead, flex your knees forward to allow for blood flow.
- Fold over from your hips, not your back. Curving your back downward over your legs can hurt your spine over time. Instead, be sure that you’re bending from your pelvis to do the Forward Fold pose safely.
- Try using yoga blocks. If you have some difficulty reaching your toes in a Forward Fold, it’s better to get some yoga blocks to rest your hands on for stability rather than bend your knees to touch the floor. While it’s okay to bend your knees a little to keep your knees from locking, bending them too much can reduce the pose’s benefits. While you are looking for some equipment, check out the best yoga pants, mats, tops, and blocks on Amazon.
Bridge Pose (Setu Bandhāsana)
Bridge Pose is a smart inverted pose to practice if you eventually want to work up to doing shoulder stands, headstands, and other fully inverted yoga poses. Bridge Pose helps you get used to having your head inverted and supporting the weight of your body on your shoulders. This pose is also well-known for helping open up the respiratory system and chest.
Along with providing a stretch to the hips, back, chest, and shoulders, Bridge Pose also stimulates the thyroid gland and aids with digestive issues. This pose is also recommended for those who have sedentary sitting jobs since it helps to stretch out the back and legs.
To perform the Bridge Pose, lay your head and shoulders on the ground and lift your hips until your back is arched towards the ceiling, with your feet planted squarely beneath your knees. Your arms should remain stretched on the ground to either side.
Below you’ll find some tips and modifications for performing Bridge Pose:
- Make the pose deeper. The basic form of Bridge Pose is pretty simple, so if you don’t feel like you’re getting a deep enough stretch, try pushing your tailbone towards the ceiling. This should deepen the pose throughout your body.
- Put a yoga block under your hips. If you find it difficult to maintain an elevated position in Bridge Pose, try placing a yoga block under your sacrum to provide some stability.
- Don’t splay your knees. If you splay your knees out in Bridge Pose, you risk compressing your lower back. Squeeze a yoga block between your thighs while performing Bridge Pose to help keep your body in the correct position to prevent injury.
Wheel Pose (Urdhva Dhanurasana)
Wheel Pose is a more challenging version of the Bridge Pose, and often Bridge Pose is used to transition into a Wheel Pose since they are performed from similar positions. In Western gymnastics, the Wheel Pose is simply known as a backbend. It involves lifting your back toward the ceiling and raising up on to your hands and feet to form an inverted arch with your spine.
Wheel Pose is considered a difficult pose because it is a full-body stretch and is performed with your head completely inverted, which makes it more difficult to focus on holding the pose. However, because it’s a full-body stretch and it fully inverts the head, it’s one of the most common inverted poses you’ll run across.
Here are a few more tips and modifications for performing Wheel Pose.
- Use yoga blocks. Performing a full backbend is difficult for many people at first, so use yoga blocks at either your hands or feet to help you arch your back if you don’t have the full level of flexibility to do so yet.
- Don’t squeeze your glutes. Contracting too hard with your butt muscles can compress your lower back and cause you pain in this position. Keep your pelvis level, don’t tilt it upwards trying to extend the stretch.
- Walk your feet closer to your hands. If you want to deepen the pose and make it more challenging, try walking your feet closer to your hands, causing your back to arch more sharply. Only deepen the pose if you can do so without compressing your lower back.
Plow Pose (Halasana)
If you have a hard time stretching your back enough to perform a full backbend in Wheel Pose, another pose you can try that will help you work up to more challenging inverted poses is the Plow Pose. Plow Pose is also a useful pose for transitioning into a shoulder stand or other fully inverted yoga pose.
Plow Pose involves bringing your hips up over your head and shoulders, touching your toes to the ground above your head while your torso remains straight and your back is supported by your arms and shoulders.
For more tips on performing Plow Pose, see below:
- Don’t compress your neck. If you perform Plow Pose and you find yourself looking anywhere but your navel during the pose, there’s a chance that you’ll cause an injury to your neck. If you feel tightness or compression while practicing Plow Pose, fold a yoga towel (via Amazon) beneath your shoulders to provide a safer angle.
- Lift your kneecaps. Lifting your kneecaps in Plow Pose stretches your hamstring and helps engage the leg muscles.
- You can use different arm positions. Some variations on arm positions in Plow Pose include along your head, stretched down toward your toes, or stretched up with your hands laced behind your back.
Shoulder Stand (Salamba Sarvangasana)
If you want to get into fully inverted yoga poses, going with a supported headstand, or a shoulder stand, is the best way to get yourself straight up-and-down. This pose is great for learning how to safely practice inversions, which decreases your risk of accidentally injuring yourself in a fully inverted yoga pose.
Shoulder stands involve holding your entire body perpendicular above your head using your head and shoulders for stability. This pose involves a lot of strength and stability to pull off, so it needs to be taken in stages for safety.
When you first start learning to do a shoulder stand, it’s a good idea to perform the stand with a wall for support and several yoga blankets folded under your head and neck. This will help perform pain if you accidentally rest too much of your weight on the crown of your head or your shoulders.
Here are some other tips for doing a shoulder stand:
- Take your time. You should learn to do a shoulder stand gradually to prevent accidentally injuring yourself. Don’t be afraid to use a wall for support as long as you need to before moving to a full shoulder stand without a wall for a crutch.
- Move slowly. Don’t try to shove yourself into a shoulder stand forcefully, as you may lose your balance and hurt your head or neck.
- Keep your breath and your mouth soft. It’s easy to start clenching up during a shoulder stand since you’re having to exert great effort to hold the pose, but focus on keeping your breathing and your posture as relaxed as you can while remaining straight.
Yoga Headstand (Salamba Shirshasana)
A headstand is one of the hardest yoga poses to pull off successfully, so it may take you several weeks or even months to build up the strength and stability necessary to pull this pose off. Like with a shoulder stand, headstands should first be practiced using a wall as support or with another yogit to help hold your lower body straight.
These are some of the ways you can perform a yoga headstand more easily:
- Take it slow. Do not rush into a headstand, especially if you haven’t mastered other easier inverted poses such as the Shoulder Stand and the Plow. You’ll need to develop your upper body and core strength significantly to be able to do a headstand without risking your neck (literally).
- Get someone to spot you. Headstands are a good yoga pose to learn in a yoga inversions class with a teacher since they can help give you support while also correcting your posture in the pose for better results.
Child's Pose (Balasana)
Getting into inverted poses in yoga doesn’t mean you have to do something as hard as a headstand. Another common yoga inversion pose that is used in almost every yoga class is Child’s Pose. This resting pose is often used towards the end of a yoga class as a way for students to relax and rest from their previous, more challenging poses.
Child’s Pose is performed by folding your legs beneath you, then stretching your arms forward on the floor before you while pressing your face towards the ground in a bowing position.
Chld’s Pose can be assumed as long as you need in order to recover between other floor-based hatha yoga poses. This pose stretches out the thighs, arms, and back. Child’s Pose is also a good alternative pose for meditation purposes.
These are some tips for getting the most out of Child’s Pose:
- Pay attention to your breathing. Lower your torso towards the ground as you breathe to deepen the stretch.
- Use a yoga block if you need to. If you have a tight body and you find that your head isn’t able to touch the ground in Child’s Pose, you can rest it on a yoga block that has been softened with a towel.
Inverted Yoga Poses Are Great for Strength and Well Being
While they are some of the more difficult poses in yoga, yoga inversion poses have a lot to offer in terms of health benefits as long as you perform them carefully. Try learning some of the easier positions on this list of common inverted poses before graduating to advanced moves like the headstand for best results.