You can’t see, touch or smell it. But there is one great force at work all the time – a force that keeps you firmly planted on the ground, and pulls your face, organs, vertebrae etc, down. What energy are we speaking off? Gravity!
The ancient yogis of India were great worshippers of the earth. But they also understood that the earth’s energy has to work on our bodies in both directions for optimum health.
For this purpose, they specified several precise energy angles called viparita karani asanas where the body is inverted so gravity pulls the other way. Some ancient scriptures credit these inverted postures as even having the power to conquer old age.
First, let us see what can happen if we remain in an upright state all the time. Simply put, our body will begin to, well, sag! Baggy eyes, sagging skin, varicose veins, compressed lungs, decreased circulation to the brain, a stooped posture, aches, pains etc, are all attributed to this unbalanced pull of gravity.
Let us take a detailed look
Spine and gravity – Perhaps the most noticeable effect of gravity on the body is the compression of the spine.
To understand just how dramatically gravity affects your spine, try this exercise at home: measure your height in the morning and then measure it again at night. You will be 1.2cm to 2cm shorter.
The downward force of gravity causes the discs to lose moisture during the day, resulting in this daily height loss. The moisture returns to the disc in the night, but not 100%. Over a lifetime, a person can permanently lose between 1.2cm to 5cm in height
Circulation and gravity – If gravity can prevent water from flowing up, it can also prevent the blood in our bodies from freely flowing up. Over time, gravity takes a toll on the circulatory system, which may cause varicose veins, decreased circulation to the brain and swollen limbs. Poor circulation to the eyes, ears, skin, scalp and brain is one reason why our most valuable organs deteriorate.
Some hints from nature
Our bodies subconsciously understand that we need to regularly allow gravity to work the other way round on our body. For example, during the last trimester, the unborn baby turns upside-down.
Keeping our heads lower than our hearts, encourages a proper supply of blood and oxygen to the brain.
As adults, we naturally put our feet on desks or stools to compensate for gravity’s constant pull.
The inverted postures
Some of the best known inverted postures of yoga are the head stand, shoulder stand and hand stand.
Though some of the postures might look intimidating, there are many simple variations that everyone can do.
The most important aspect of a head stand (fig 1), also known as the king of all postures, rejuvenates the brain cells and helps improve many age-related symptoms such as memory loss. Both pituitary and pineal glands are nourished with the extra supply of blood.
Medical studies in India show that regular inverted posture practice protects against disorders that arise from poor circulation to the brain like an ischemic stroke.
In the shoulder stand (fig 3), known as the mother of postures, similar nourishment is given to the thyroid and parathyroid glands located in the throat.
Ancient scriptures tells us that a psychic energy centre located behind the throat releases an important secretion which maintains youth. In the normal upright position, gravity pulls it down towards the stomach where it is burnt by digestive fire.
In the hand stand (fig 2), regarded as one of the most magnificent of all postures, the thymus gland located in the chest region is stimulated. It also improves the strength of your arms, shoulders and chest.
The immediate change felt after performing this pose is enhanced alertness and clarity of mind which lasts throughout the day. Maybe that is why the first prime minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, was said to have practised the head stand every day before going to office.
The classical postures are best learnt under the direction of a teacher. If improperly done, these postures can cause injury to the neck, back or wrists.
Here is a safe variation of the shoulder stand which can be ideally done at the end of the day, especially if your job involves lots of standing.
·Position a thick bolster lengthwise, about two inches away from a wall.
·First sit sideways, so that the side of the hip, thigh and calf touches the wall.
·Keeping the hips touching the wall, or remaining as close to it as possible, swing the legs up, even as you move the body perpendicularly away.
·Now you are in the supported shoulder stand (fig 3). Relax in this position for five to 10 minutes.
·With your eyes closed, consciously let your self relax into the floor.
·Feel your shoulders and the back of your head melting into the floor each time you exhale. As tension dissolves, you may feel more freedom in your neck, perhaps allowing you to elongate it a bit.