These yoga inversions are fun to look at, but that doesn't mean they're impossible to achieve.
Yoga inversions can be beautiful to behold, and while it’s true that it takes a tremendous amount of dedication and consistency to put your body into these shapes, they are far from impossible to attain.
As you’ll see, the inversions of yoga aren’t meant to be merely eye candy. In many cases, they serve a functional and therapeutic purpose.
Even the act of working toward them can build you a stronger, more mobile, and generally more comfortable-feeling body.
What’s more, the physical benefits only scratch the surface. Read on to find out how.
1 - Pincha Mayurasana
This yoga inversion is one you’re bound to see if you take enough intermediate or advanced-level yoga classes.
Clearly it requires a lot of upper body strength as well as core stability. But those are just half of the equation.
A lot of practitioners don’t realize just how much shoulder mobility is required to do pincha mayurasana with any degree of comfort. For many, working on overhead mobility will be just as (or more) important than working on strength and balance.
By the way, this yoga inversion doesn’t just look pretty. It’s functional too. That’s because it’s an excellent therapeutic antidote for too much sitting or slouching!
If it looks out of reach at the moment, don’t assume you’ll never be able to do it. No matter your age or skill level, your yoga teacher most likely has a few tricks up their sleeve for helping you approach this inversion — whether it’s with wall work, creative drills, or with a little help from props.
2 - Pincha Mayurasana with Padmasana
Forearm Stand with Lotus Legs
Yoga inversion plus hip opener? Sign me up!
It can take some devotion to wrangle your legs into lotus pose in a seated position let alone upside down on your forearms.
If you’ve got your sights on this one, it’s helpful to work the two skills separately.
For lotus: You’ll need consistent effort to get supple, strong hips, and for some (whose joints just aren’t shaped that way), it’s frankly never going to feel good. If you feel uncomfortable, never push.
Luckily for those with tighter hips, the path of yogic liberation does not require that you contort yourself for admission.
You can practice working on lotus legs by first doing baddha konasana (soles of the feet together) and then progressing to figure four and half lotus.
Want more help? Check out this oldie-but-goodie lotus tutorial. Or this not-quite-as-oldie-but-still-a-goodie tutorial for pincha mayurasana.
The final prerequisite for the hips is this: Sit cross-legged and see if you can get yourself into lotus position without using your hands. Don’t forget to chuckle!
3 - Vrischikasana
Scorpion Pose on Forearms
The model here has done this pose exquisitely, but you can benefit from the scorpion shape at any depth.
In addition to the core and shoulder girdle benefits, scorpion pose puts your middle and lower spine into extension (backbending). Why is that so special?
It turns out, most of our days are spent somewhere between flexed and rounded forward or, best case, erect. But the human spine is meant to extend back as well.
Make a practice of regularly backbending so that your spine stays young, hydrated, and supple.
While it appears that it’s merely flexibility that’s required of backbends, they actually require strength in the extended range.
This is why spinal mobility work will make you feel more resilient and powerful overall. No foot-to-head necessary!
4 - Hollowback Pincha Mayurasana
Thoracic Extension + A Gaze Shift on Your Forearms
This unique yoga inversion has you dropping your head, shifting your gaze, and pushing your heart impossibly deeply through your arms.
You’ll see many variations for the legs, and it’s an Instagram fave. Of course… It’s more than just a party trick. This yoga inversion trains your thoracic to lengthen and extend at the same time that it encourages end-range strength in your overhead arm range.
One of the burdens of modern-day living is that we tend to lose the straightness of our upper back along with the ability to backbend at the thoracic spine. In fact, anatomy texts describe the “western” world’s inhabitants as having an S-shaped spine, while indigenous populations describe having J-shaped spines.
For spinal health alone, hollowback is as functional as it is beautiful. And by the way, some indigenous cultures are totally free from back pain. Imagine that.
5 - Vrischikasana Adho Mukha Vrksasana
Take scorpion to a whole new level by doing it on your hands. Seem impossible? Consider this:
Many handstanders actually find it easier to balance in a scorpion shape than straight up and down. Why?
Look at how the weight is distributed in this position. There is room for error in both the front and the back. When you’re attempting a vertical line, it takes a lot more precision to maintain.
No need to get caught up in how deeply you can bend (unless you want to). The truth is, you’ll want to approach the backbend slowly so that you can be sure you’re distributing the spinal extension rather than relying exclusively on your lower back’s flexibility — a recipe for strain.
Use a wall. Find a teacher. Play around, and don’t forget to have fun.
Want some help in handstand? Try my 14-day journey.
6 - Sarvangasana
Unsupported Shoulder Stand
It’s one thing to do shoulder stand propped on your elbows. It’s another thing entirely to do it sans hands.
So what does it require? For one thing, it takes some flexion control in your neck. It takes practice to get comfortable with this relatively deep neck flexion while also activating cervical extension for balance.
And, as you can probably guess, it takes some serious core to stabilize your body in this vertical position, both on entry and to sustain the shape. In its “ideal” form, the practitioner gets totally vertical.
But, as with most of the yoga inversions, you can derive benefit simply by approaching the posture. The first step in this case is getting comfortable with supported shoulder stand.
Once that’s very manageable, get taller in it! How? Rock gently from side to side to draw your elbows (and shoulder blades) closer together.
Once you’re propped up high enough, release one hand and see how it goes. As always, be willing to roll out and have a good guttural laugh at yourself.
A key benefit — in addition to cervical flexion and core strength — is an internal massage of the thyroid gland, an important orchestrator of hormone release, which lies at the base of the neck.
7 - Sarvangasana Padmasana
Shoulder Stand with Lotus Pose
A favorite of Ashtanga yogis, this yoga inversion builds on the unsupported shoulder stand from above. It can in some cases be easier than the vertical position because you get to support your knees with your hands.
Of course, tying your legs into lotus position is no joke and can take years — and obsessive consistency — to manage.
Nonetheless, variations abound! You can absolutely practice this shape even if you’re nowhere near lotus legs. As above, you can practice it with baddha konasana (feet together, knees apart), or you can try making a figure four with your legs.
When figure four is doable, your next move is half lotus. On a celebratory note, you can use a hand to help your feet into lotus position, unlike in the forearm stand with lotus.
8 - Adho Mukha Vrksasana w/ Padmasana
Handstand with Lotus Legs
Cue the intimidation. This one is a pinnacle shape, to be sure.
Not only does it require a sturdy handstand and very pliable hips… It also requires a willingness to confront one’s own ego.
Think of it this way. In order to get into this doozy of a yoga inversion long enough for the camera to make it look good, the practitioner will have fallen out hundreds or even thousands of times.
To continue the (somewhat comical) visual, the process of falling out requires a quick untying of one’s self-created leg pretzel. Just imagine how many ways it could go wrong along the journey.
To achieve this position, you’ve got to take yourself seriously enough to dedicate daily effort but not so seriously that you can’t stomach a lot, and I mean a lot, of failure.
Thank you, yoga!
To Wrap It Up
Some will gaze upon a beautiful yoga inversion and have any variety of possible reactions. Do any of these sound like you?
- That’s totally out of reach for me. I’ll never do it;
- That’s only for ego-maniacs and show-offs;
- I’m not strong enough;
- I’ll never be that flexible;
- That looks painful!
- I don’t do yoga for the physical benefits alone.
If any of the above could have been you, I encourage you to flip the script.
Consider what might be gained from even just beginning the journey toward any one of these. Whether it’s the physical benefit that draws you in, or the mental boldness, or the ego-whipping and consequent soul-shifting…
Any one of these eight yoga inversions could be more attainable that you would guess and more life-shifting than you might imagine.
p.s. We do a variety of these yoga inversions in my weekly flows here at Leigha Butler Yoga — in an encouraging, no-pressure kind of way. Claim your free 14 days if you’re not already a member!
Super interesting! I got into yoga for the fun part, but I soon realised I am getting so much more benefits.
Right?! I think many are drawn to the physical adventure and then along the way discover that yoga is so rich in its capacity to shift life for the better.