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I remember a couple of years ago, being at the new home of my ex-husband and his young girlfriend, for my sons’ birthday celebration. My kids had asked their father to host this party and that I come along and celebrate with them. Of course I said yes, in spite of the heavy emotions I knew this would bring up for me. As the party progressed, I recall looking desperately for a spot to lift up into a handstand. I couldn’t explain this urge to be upside down, but it was there, and when I found a wall (because I admit I am a yogi who needs a wall), and got myself inverted, I felt instant relief, and had a moment to literally look at the whole situation from a different perspective.
Kids of all ages feel stress, anxiety, sadness and other emotions as much as adults, and often don’t have the tools to cope. When in the midst of a troubling situation, or feeling overwhelmed conversation isn’t always the answer. Kids respond viscerally to a multitude of experiences, and often, getting them to do something physical gives them a more immediate way to safely handle what is troubling. Helping kids learn to invert gives them another way to not only change their physiology but also their outlook.
What are inversions?
To invert really means to have the head below the heart. Inversions don’t need to be intimidating. Often, the idea of headstands or handstands can bring on a bit of fear and anxiety, so unless these are desired inversions, there are others available to do the job. Downward dog is always a favorite, and readily available for everyone. Other options are wheel, shoulder stand, legs up the wall, happy baby and simply folding over one’s own legs from a standing position There are safe ways to teach head and handstands with the support of a wall and a teacher. One of my favorite headstands uses blocks to do a no-head headstand, taking the weight and pressure off of the neck and head. Whatever the preference, inverting feels great and is extremely beneficial.
Inversions and the body
Turning things upside down actually has great benefit to the body. Inversions help strengthen the core, arms, and shoulders, and serve as good practice for balance. There is increased blood flow and oxygen to the brain, providing more clarity and an increased ability to focus, and improved circulation. This also helps to invigorate and energize the body. As we know sometimes kids get stuck in a pattern of negative thought, or feel drained, and heavy with emotions due to fatigue. Inversions such as headstand, handstand or forearm stand can give kids a mental boost that helps increase their energy and ability to tackle issues at hand. They can be a fun, quick, “pick me up!”
More soothing inversions, such as legs against the wall or happy baby can have a calming effect on the nervous system. When kids are stressed or upset, their sympathetic nervous system has usually taken over and they are stuck in a reactionary fight or flight mode. Calming inversions can activate the parasympathetic nervous system, and increase ability to make clearer decisions, slow down breathing, find homeostasis in the body’s functioning, becoming and feeling more in control of a situation.
Photo by Susan Verde
Inversions and perspective
In addition to physiologically affecting the brain and the nervous system, inversions can both literally and emotionally “turn that frown upside down.” Having safe and effective choices and options for handling stress is important for children, as they encounter many varied situations into adulthood. Sometimes what kids need is a different way to see things and that is what inverting does. Being upside down builds confidence, boosting a child’s view of his own ability to handle his emotions. When we can look at an event from another point of view, we cultivate empathy and compassion, as well as providing ourselves with more options to cope.
Looking at a situation from another angle also brings an element of playfulness and fun into the moment. Sometimes this shift is all that’s needed to change one’s mood and bring on a real smile from ear to ear.
Susan Verde is a yoga and mindfulness teacher, and author of the picture books The Museum, I Am Yoga, You and Me and the forthcoming The Water Princess.She lives in East Hampton, New York with her three children.