It’s a no-brainer—increased oxygen to the brain has got to be good for the thinking organ that resides in your skull. Gravity is not in its favor. The gray matter sits atop the spinal cord and relies on blood flowing uphill to nourish it.
I decided to help it out. For the last year, I do inversions daily and have noticed a definite improvement in memory, speech formation, vision clarity, leg varicosity. And my hair has gotten thicker. I even feel smarter.
Why this sudden penchant for reversing the flow of blood for at least ten minutes a day?
In yoga class, I discovered a distinct dislike for shoulder and head stands. My neck vertebrae were not happy in these weight-bearing postures. I modified the pose by placing a cork or foam block on the high end under my sacrum and raising my legs straight up toward the ceiling. The rush of blood to my head was delicious and I started hanging out there longer and longer—even through Shavasana (Corpse Pose). Other students would be lying in this prone and relaxing position which is usually the finale that follows every yoga class. I did not want to lay down, I wanted to experience my inversion as long as possible. Especially when I noticed improvement in my memory and thought process.
I figured it couldn’t hurt to nourish my central command station by increasing the oxygen-enriched blood flow and draining the deoxygenated blood from the brain.
The brain uses about three times as much oxygen as the muscles do. It is vital to brain function, and brain healing. The brain contains one of the body’s most dense networks of blood vessels. There are 120 veins in the human brain that carry oxygen. It is very susceptible to any diminishment in blood flow. When the supply of oxygen-rich blood is hindered, brain cells die and the brain degenerates. Not good!
There are a number of different methods you can use to increase the amount of oxygen-rich blood that flows to your brain from diet to regular exercise. I practice these plus inversions.
By learning to recognize symptoms (like forgetting names) you can take action to increase oxygenation of your brain, improve brain function, and reduce your risk of vascular dementia.
I also have a theory that it may help prevent aneurysms due to the veins and arteries in the brain expanding and contracting. This aids in the flushing of vital fluids that feed our brains.
The inversion method that works the best for me is to stay inverted while practicing slow, deep breathing—four counts in and four counts out—to enhance oxygenation. Five minutes is satisfactory but ten minutes is ideal. Another tip that also helps you build your awareness of alignment is placing the feet side by side lining up the ankle bones with each other and the big toe mounds. I like to push my legs up toward the ceiling straight out of the hip sockets, flex my feet, wiggle my toes, and align the feet. Ten minutes of active deliciousness!
With no exaggeration, since I started doing inversions my memory has improved vastly—it is sharper than when I was in my twenties. No more lost car keys or missed appointments. People’s names, song titles and lyrics, and places pop up right away—no wading around the memory bank looking for those details as I stare and stall trying to put a name to the face that is nodding at me expectantly.
If this is too much upside down for you—you can still benefit from laying in bed reading with your legs up the wall and your feet resting against it higher than your head. Placing a pillow under your hips to elevate them slightly also insures blood doesn’t pool in the torso.
There are about 86 billion neurons in the human brain. That is about half the estimated number of stars in our Milky Way galaxy. Let us keep those neurons bright and snapping.
(photo by Lisa Alpine of an inverted yogini Mary Chapman)